MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
For the 32nd consecutive year, the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department and Combat Assault Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, joined together to conduct Mud Ops, Feb. 19 and 20, 2014.
Mud Ops is an annual environmental exercise where service members and base personnel use amphibious assault vehicles to churn the mud within the Nuupia Pond Wildlife Management Area and salvage yard wetland. The purpose of the exercise is to allow local wildlife living in the area to build homes and feed during nesting season.
With Base Environmental overseeing the exercise, Marines used AAVs to plow into the ponds and break up the pickleweed plant, an invasive species of grass that makes it hard for the endangered Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt to nest. As the AAVs trekked around the mud-filled area, their tracks made the land more absorbent.
“It all started a little over 30 years ago and we noticed areas torn up by the AAVs where wildlife began nesting, so we decided to formalize it,” said Todd Russell, a natural resources manager. “Every February we (have) 2-3 days where we bring in the AAVs to mix up the mud in the area, and we call it Mud Ops.”
Russell boarded the AAVs alongside the Marines and provided guidance to the best routes for the AAVs to trek. While one vehicle drove in a clockwise direction, the other vehicle tackled the mud in the opposite direction.
“I just point out which areas would probably be the best for them to mix up the mud without getting stuck,” Russell said. “We try to incorporate training in this exercise as well and help show not all training harms the environment.”
While the purpose of Mud Ops is to help wildlife flourish, the Marines with CAC take the opportunity each year to treat the exercise as a driving enhancement program for their younger Marines.
“This is the only terrain in Hawaii where we can get good training,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Lee, a vehicle crewman with CAC, 3rd Marines. “The mud is deep and thick, which offers a challenge for the newer Marines when they’re learning how to drive the AAVs.”
As the AAVs plowed through the mud, fellow crewmen helped the driver by pointing out areas of concern and avoiding bad spots within the area. The biggest goal to the exercise was to ensure safety and avoid getting an AAV stuck in the mud.
“You can’t always see where you’re driving, and you could dig up a big boulder from the mud out here and end up stuck,” said Lance Cpl. Chase Behrman, a crew chief with CAC, 3rd Marines. “One of the things we teach younger Marines is to be careful when making sharp turns. The terrain can be deceiving, and if you turn too quickly at the wrong time, then we have a bad situation and get to start the recovery process.”
The recovery process utilizes the tow cables located on both ends of an AAV. The cables are hooked up to the vehicle that is stuck. From there, the AAV carefully maneuvers through the muddy conditions while towing the vehicle to safety.
While the CAC Marines consider Mud Ops a great opportunity to enhance their training, they also see it as a way to help out the environment.
“There’s a reason why we do this every year,” said Staff Sgt. Jesus Calixtopiza, a section leader with CAC, 3rd Marines. “We’re always committed to helping the community, and Mud Ops is one of these exercises that allow us to get in some good training while helping preserve the environment.”