CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Few Marines have a true realization of what being an amphibious fighting force really means like the Marines and Sailors of 2d Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2d Marine Division.Located nine miles from main side Camp Lejeune at Courthouse Bay, the unit epitomizes the very heartbeat that makes the United States Marine Corps amphibious by nature. Housed here at the bays adjacent to the boat basin, the Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) of 2d AA Bn are operated and maintained on a daily basis by the Marines, whose mission is the very core of amphibious operations."To land the surface assault elements of the landing force and their equipment in a single lift from assault shipping during amphibious operations to inland objectives. To conduct mechanized operations and related combat support in subsequent operations ashore." mission statement, 2d AA Bn.According to Damascus, Md., native, Maj Michael L. Kuhn, operations officer, 2d AA Bn, "This battalion's mission revolves around working in concert with the infantry. The mechanized team you form with AAVs and infantry is probably one of the most versatile and capable forces we have in the Marine Corps." The assault amphibian vehicles used by the Marine Corps to land troops on the beach have gone through many changes over the years. Even the AAV-7A1 series now in use by the U.S. Marine Corps have gone through some modifications since their original arrival at the unit, including the current program. RAM/RS reliability, availability, maintainability - rebuild to standard, was required for the AAV-7A1 series to extend the service life of the vehicle until fielding of the advanced assault amphibian vehicle). "The significant changes on the RAM/RS vehicle are a new power plant, with 525 horsepower, and a new suspension. Marine Corps Logistics Bases Albany and Barstow are responsible for these modifications," Kuhn stated. "One problem with the AAV-7A1 vehicle is that we cannot maintain the maneuverability and speed on the battlefield with the M1 tanks. The new suspension, resembling that of the U. S. Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle, greatly reduces the need for slowing down when maneuvering in rough terrain." Just how reliable are the newly modified vehicles? According to Kuhn, the battalion is working through the normal aches and pains of newly fielded or newly modified equipment, but the keystone to the program is the RAM/RS vehicle significantly enhances the maneuverability of AA units on the battlefield. "In my opinion, there's nothing that can match it," Kuhn stated. "There is no other vehicle in the world that will launch from the stern of a naval ship from 4,000 yards off shore and assault the beach or objective. If you look at history, this vehicle, and its predecessors, make the Marine Corps what it is. Without this vehicle, you really wouldn't have the amphibious capability that the Marine Corps possesses."Currently, the commanding officer's vision for the battalion is getting back to the basics of operations, maintenance and safety. They plan to start conducting a battalion level deployment at Fort A. P. Hill, Va., and possibly at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., to focus on basic warfighting skills training and to build unit cohesion in concert with the "warrior spirit," according to Kuhn. "This is critical for 2d AA Bn. with 1,000 Marines and Sailors in the battalion. Typically, 2d AA Bn does not conduct battalion level deployments, which is a disadvantage. That's what we're pushing to get back."Kuhn stated the biggest challenge the battalion will face in the next few years is preparing to receive and maintain the newly fielded Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV), due to reach the operating forces around 2006. "The AAAV will challenge our community in many different ways. We will undertake significant changes in our tactics, organization, maintenance and gunnery programs." While the AAV-7A1 rides down in the water at a speed of 6-7 knots, the new AAAV will plane on top of the water at 20-25 knots, weighing 35 tons and possessing a 30mm cannon. According to Kuhn, the AAAV will allow the Marine Corps to conduct amphibious launches from over the horizon with operational maneuver from the sea and ship to objective maneuver concepts. On the battlefield, the new AAAV will also be comparable in maneuverability to the M1 Abrams main battle tanks employed by the Marine Corps.For photos and more information about AAVs, visit the Marine Corps homepage at www.usmc.mil.