The US Navy amphibious task force carrying Marines to Lebanon for non-combatant evacuation duties is built around the latest in a remarkable class of ships. USS Iwo Jima, LHD-7, is the second amphibious ship to bear the name of the Marine Corps' most famous battle. The first USS Iwo Jima was little more than an updated version of the small escort, or "jeep" carriers of the second world war. But, at the time it was built, LPH-2 was designed specifically to haul Marines who would be ferried ashore in the latest technological advance in amphibious ship-to-shore movement--the helicopter. The LHD class of amphibious ships is a remarkable combination of nearly all of the unique characteristics of amphibious shipping developed since the Navy and Marine Corps began experimenting with amphibious warfare as science in the years between the First and Second World Wars. The LHD is nearly as big as our aircraft carriers, and in addition to the ability to carry and support the combat flight operations of helicopters and V/STOL attack jets, the LHD can flood its hollow internal well deck and float conventional and air cushioned landing craft in and out of its stern gate. A truly amazing ship.
I deployed to the Mediterranean for two consecutive six-month tours on the original USS Iwo Jima in the late 1980s. She was an old ship then, with many more years of service ahead. We Marines had a joke about ship-board life:
Q: What's the difference between serving time on a Navy amphibious ship and serving time in prison?
A: In prison, you have cable TV and no danger of drowning.
Officer staterooms on amphibious shipping really do remind you of a prison cell, with two exceptions -- no toilet and no bars. In a ten by ten space, four bunks and a sink. And that is "officer" berthing. The troops suffer much worse crowded conditions...for months at a time.
Another joke we had was that the crowded conditions were intentionally designed to make us more than ready to storm ashore and take out our frustrations on the enemy. We did indeed relish the opportunities to "storm ashore," whether for a field exercise or for liberty in some third world port. And the results were often the same--we fought and tore things up.
Breakfast at sea the morning after a port call was always fun for me--wish I had written down the stories that were told at the time.