A day at the beach for Marines
There is more.
Cpl. Andrew Mustain joined the Marine Corps a few years ago, drawn partly by its storied heritage of storming beaches and the chance to drive a large vehicle in and out of water.
The Marines' expertise with amphibious landings has been memorialized in movies, posters and recruiting commercials. It's arguably the Corps' defining image – a Leatherneck rushing the shores of Iwo Jima, Japan; Inchon, Korea; and other foreign locales.
That's what Mustain, 21, is learning to do at Red Beach, a mile-long stretch of sand in the middle of Camp Pendleton's coastal training zone. The parcel is one of the most uncluttered yet heavily used oceanfront tracts in Southern California.
“Every time, it's kind of a nervous feeling,” Mustain said of the maneuvers. “You get used to it, but you still have the nervousness.”
Red Beach is one of the Marine Corps' most valuable assets. Since the early 1940s, hundreds of thousands of Marines have trained there and on Camp Pendleton's other beaches for missions from the Pacific Islands to Iraq.
“From the very earliest times of the Marine Corps through all the major campaigns of the 20th century and even through today, (amphibious assaults) are a fundamental skill set,” said John Carretti, a retired Marine who now works as Camp Pendleton's director of training resource management.
Endangered species and civilian encroachment – including campgrounds and a power plant – have curtailed the use of other landing beaches on the base, which are called Blue, Gold, Green and White. Red Beach includes some protected habitat, but it's not expansive.
“This beach and its amphibious capability make all the difference,” Carretti said. “Without that, the base might as well be in Kansas.”
The fine-grained sand at Red Beach is marked by deep ruts from armored vehicles that cross it, a signal that any moments of serenity are routinely broken by the roar of engines and the sound of mock warfare.
Virtually every day, Marines roll across the beach – which is closed to the public – in tanklike machines that drown out the steady rhythm of the crashing swells. Sometimes, it's a few dozen Marines. Other times, it's 1,500 or more.
“You don't want to be down on the beach with a pail and a shovel when those amphibious assault vehicles come by,” said William Berry, Camp Pendleton's resources management chief. “That's not a good thing.”
A few years ago I saw a story about a night landing exercise to took place as illegal immigrants tried to slip their way up the beach. While they were not injured they never reached their objective after being surrounded by a large group of Marines.