MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
Endangered Hawaiian birds, invasive plant species and amphibious assault vehicles, how can these things have anything in common? The answer is the 34th annual "Mud Ops", the dirtiest pro-environmental training aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Marines with Combat Assault Company, 3rd Marine Regiment churned up muddy wetlands around the Nu’upia Ponds Wildlife Management Area, March 1, 2017.
The MCB Hawaii Environmental Compliance and Protection Department partnered with CAC to utilize their AAVs in an effort to fight back against invasive plants and prepare plots of wetlands for local wildlife.
Todd Russell, a natural resource manager with Base Environmental Facilities, guided the Marines through the thick mud, coordinating the best routes for the AAVs to use.
“For 34 years we have been hosting ‘Mud Ops’ to clear away invasive plant species such as pickle weed and mangrove sprouts by churning up the deep mud for local wildlife,” Russell said. “Many seabirds and shorebirds need open areas of wetland for nesting, breeding and feeding. The Hawaiian Stilt, one of the many birds that call these wetlands home, is also on the endangered species list with about 150 aboard base, 10% of the total population on Oahu.”
He said the AAVs were ideal for clearing up targeted areas around the base, helping the environment while also providing Marines the opportunity to train on this unique terrain.
“Thick vegetation, deep muck and heavy rain – the best conditions for training,” Russell said. “Marines always enjoy the opportunity to go all out and tossing up the muddy water during ‘Mud Ops’. The method we use with CAC replicates the natural cycle for sustaining wetlands by reducing the infestation of invasive plants.”
Cpl. Joseph Hunt, an AAV crew chief with CAC, 3rd Marines, participated in this year’s "Mud Ops".
“’Mud Ops’ lets us go faster and drive more freely because there aren’t a lot of places here in Hawaii where we can do a lot of land driving,” said Hunt, an Omaha, Nebraska native. “This year, we didn’t have our whole platoon to take advantage of it. Usually we’d do formation driving or other tactical maneuvers so we made the most of it with the four AAVs we had on hand.”
He said ‘Mud Ops’ allows new Marine to get accustomed to driving and getting comfortable with the tracks.
“Less experienced drivers and crew chiefs get the feeling of great training close to home,” Hunt said. “My favorite moment from today was when one of our AAVs blew its tracks and we spent 5 hours repairing it in the rain. This is my third year and I haven’t missed one yet, getting dirty during ‘Mud Ops’ is always a fun time.”
Leading the Marines during the exercise was 1st Lt. Carlos Silva, the executive officer for CAC, 3rd Marines. He stated that AAV drills in Oahu are difficult to conduct because of the limited training areas, but "Mud Ops" is a way for his drivers and crew chiefs to gain experience traversing through rough terrain.
“During ‘Mud Ops’ we conducted maneuvering and driving drills through demanding terrain under rough weather,” said Silva, a Chicago native. “We were also able to practice towing procedures for the AAVs when they got trapped and first echelon maintenance, which included removing track pads, then reinstalling them.”
Silva said he’s happy with helping the local wildlife with the kind of training they do and the reactions he gets from his troops.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “My Marines learn about the value of this exercise and while also getting to have fun driving around splattering mud and ripping up plants. We get great training, while also sustaining the ecosystem and helping the local bird populations.”