Standing on the breezy beach in Coronado, Calif., with the big-deck amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the distance, Gunner’s Mate
3rd Class Matthew Jackson took a few steps and flung
a tennis ball toward the breaking waves.
The bright yellow ball nearly disappeared in the
foam and quickly rolled to the north with the current.
Jackson watched the ball, silently counting seconds
before grabbing it as it came ashore. Nearby,
Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Djuan Keys focused on the
horizon, a clipboard in hand. On a sheet of paper,
Keys counted waves, jotting down the size of each
breaking, plunging or spilling and working his way to
the 100th wave.
Chief Boatswain’s Mate (SW/AW) Eric Gillig had the
radio to his ear during Beachmaster Unit 1’s training
May 4, listening for the impending departure of a pair
of Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo craft, or
LARCs, from USS Boxer, anchored off the beach getting its well deck certified. The Sailors’ calculations
and estimations would delineate the safe lane ashore to
land the craft. Gillig, as the Beach Party Team commander, had the final say.
Jackson scrawled “ 5-1” in the
sand with his boot and walked north
to cast the ball again. He would
relearn some Beachmaster basics —
know the high tide lines — when
the next waves of the rising tide
erased it. The number helps calculate the wave speed and factors into
the surf observation report, or
SUROB, they must do hourly with
other data, including wave height,
direction and frequency.
Within the hour, the LARC-Vs
and their loads of Sailors — other
members of Beachmaster Unit 1
(BMU- 1) — steered toward the
Beachmaster who waved a large
yellow flag marking the arrival lane. The Beachmaster
driving the first LARC-V cleanly aimed for the flag,
timing it between the inbound waves before the large,
fat wheels grabbed the sand and brought it through the
water onto the drier beach.
The second LARC-V? It didn’t go as smoothly, as
the driver missed a perpendicular approach. The current and waves shifted the vehicle, and it came ashore
several yards north of the intended flag. Just in time,
as rising 6-foot waves forced an end to the day’s
In the high-tech-driven world of sea power, it took just
a $10 toy — a Chuckit! ball launcher for pets — and
some keen eyes to help the Beachmasters do the task.
Today’s Beachmaster community is rooted in the
naval beach battalions that joined Army units and led
them onto the landing beaches in Normandy, France,
including 6th Naval Beach Battalion — BMU- 1’s predecessor — on June 6, 1944.
“They had some life vests. They had some rifles, and
they had some flags,” said CDR Casey Plew, BMU- 1 commander and a surface warfare officer. “And they brought
craft to the beach.
Duty in the Surf Zone
Sailors take a low-tech approach for safe movement ashore
By GIDGET FUENTES, Special Correspondent
In the Littorals
The small community of Beachmasters is critical to the movement of troops, assault craft, vehicles, equipment and supplies
ashore between the Navy fleet and other military ships and craft.
■ The basics have changed little since World War II, when the original Beachmasters braved artillery and gunfire to get Soldiers
ashore in Normandy.
■ Demand remains strong for their skills with the Marine Corps’
push to rebuild amphibious skills.
■ Might new technology like persistent buoys aid in collecting and
reporting surf zone data — or eliminate the human element?