The Kam takes on the USMC

In February of 2003, I received an email from Jonathan Miller, a United States Marine who performed operations with the Kam in the Early 1990ís. I previously had no idea that Marines worked with the Kam! The following is his spectacular account of one particular operation.


What a treat to stumble upon this page.

I was stationed with Charlie Company, 1st Btn 3rd MarDiv out of KMCAS on Oahu.  In the early 90's a slimmed down version of our company reported for duty on the USS Kamehameha, around 100 officers and men.

We were an infantry company and specialized in zodiac operations.  The DOD wanted to take the means by which SEALS are launched from a sub and make it a workable scenario for a company of infantry Marines.

This is one piece of our story.

Our mission preparations required many hours of training, trying to create the methodology by which we could most effectively deploy and recover around 100 marines from the boat.

Our recovery assumptions lead us to think that many of the zodiacs would be unable to head back to sea under their own power and the sub would not want to surface inside of 14 miles of land to minimize it's exposure to hostile engagement.

The idea was that we would daisy chain the boats together with hopefully an equal number on each side with a rope maybe 100 or so meters long holding the two groups of boats together.  the sub would stay submerged with only it's periscope above the surface, sail between the two groups of boats and catch the rope with it's periscope.  as the sub sailed on, we would be drug behind the boat and pulled out to sea to a point of safety so we could load the men and boats back aboard the sub.

Our first attempt...we were all tied together and floating on generous seas with calm air, the smell of outboard motor exhaust from the zodiac engines settling in all around us for a period of over an hour.  The combination of the seas and the exhaust had made the majority of the men very sick.  I was the stick leader of boat team 2, which was the inside boat on one side of the chain (e.g. We had a series of boats tied behind us, the long 100+meter rope tied to our bow and extended across the sea to the other group of boats) I had the XO in our boat, who was as sick as they come, could hardly move and laid in his own vomit for the duration (his egress out of our boat nearly cost him his life due to his condition, but that is another story)

I was a corporal and I was in charge of the boat, her occupants and the entire chain of boats to my rear.  Boat team 2 and boat team 1 each had emergency levers we could pull to disengage the two groups of boats being tied together, but due to the importance of the mission one had better not pull the lever without exhausting all other options!

Finally, we see the periscope lined up and heading our direction and everyone was pleased.  She was moving slow and cautiously, but she was coming our way.  Several minutes passed and one of the Marines on my boat said, "it's heading right towards us!"  It did appear to be that way, but needing to keep order, and understanding there were a lot of variables at play I dismissed his observation with, "the seas are pitching, its hard to really visualize what direction he's going, he'll get it right...etc. etc." The observation was made several more times by several of the Marines, each with positive reassurance by me that we would be fine.

I finally realized we were in trouble when I looked into the ocean beneath our craft and saw the bow of the sub passing underneath us... what a tremendous site, 8,000 tons of machine under and heading right for us!

We begin to signal the sub's periscope by waving our hands and moving them to our right, thinking we were signaling them to steer to their port side and away from us...they kept coming right at us. Automatically I began running calculations in my head, trying to predict how our boat would react if hit, what direction would it go, could it be pulled down, if we need to jump out what direction do we jump so the sub doesn't hit us or we don't get caught in the propellers of other zodiacs being pulled around...should I pull the emergency release...etc...I decided to man my post...it was my duty and most likely the safest place to be, given all the variables and possible outcomes...the guys in the boat did beautify and followed my direction, though I would say everyone of them questioned the outcome...they believed in me though and that's what made them stay. At what seemed like 10 feet but was more than likely 10 meters, the sub began to submerge quickly and we could see that the periscope was being retracted.  Almost...almost...........wham! we were hit.  The periscope hit the port side of our zodiac, spun us around and hit the engine.  We were still all tied together so we snapped back quickly.  About 20% of our air chambers were ruptured and our engine was destroyed.  Several pieces of gear and 1 marine came out of the boat...we recovered the marine and everyone was ok. 

As SSN-642 continued to pass and as our scout swimmer dove in to aid the thrown marine, the stern passed under us with the huge blades of the propeller turning......it was an eerie feeling.

We eventually were towed out to the sub once she surfaced and we began our extraction...another harrowing experience for boat team 2, the first every to try this method and with a crippled craft under no power of our own.

Once back on board we went to our debriefing to figure out what went wrong. I can still remember the periscope operator saying he thought we were waving hello to them...I thought to myself...we've got all this going and you think I am going to stop and wave hello....he obviously hadn't worked with many Marines...:-)

I'll try and drum up some pictures and send them to you...they are limited because of the nature of our mission.  I do have a copy of Marine Times though and I believe they put a few pictures of our training in there.

I hope you enjoyed this piece of our history...the boys of company C....Charlie Still Surfs!

Sincerely,

J.Miller

Back to the USS Kamehameha in the 1990s