The wind blows viciously as it sweeps across the open waters, but the sound of gum being popped out of the pack is a familiar feeling that Senior Chief Quartermaster Steve Schweizer will never forget, even after retirement. It's something that he takes on every mission, a lucky charm that he'll leave behind when he walks out of the Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU-4) facility for the very last time.
"I won't fly without it," said Schweizer. "I've actually been on the ramp getting ready to go and I was feeling my pockets and thought 'oh it's not there, no I have to run back inside I know it's in my desk.' I'll look at the water, look at the weather, and I'll just kind of almost go into a quiet place, like just relax. I know that as soon as that mission starts, it's 'go go go', it's stress, it's just operational, operational, operational."
Schweizer first thought of joining the Navy after being unsure what he wanted to do in life.
"I took half a semester of college and realized it wasn't what I wanted to do," said Schweizer. "I had an uncle in the Navy who I didn't talk to very much, but I told him I decided to join the military and he told me how much fun he had in the Navy so I figured I may have made the right decision."
Schweizer first joined the LCAC program in 2004 and enjoys what he does.
"I've been here for fifteen years and I love what I do," said Schweizer. "I love flying the crafts, I love teaching people how to fly the crafts, and I like our mission."
Schweizer began running as a hobby before his 2014 deployment, describing it as an escape and a stress reliever.
"I just put my music on, go for a run, and I just tune everything out," said Schweizer. "It's just my relax time, my alone time. It's definitely one of those things where it's like if you think of work all the time, if you think of the stress of your job all the time, it's going to get to you, so it's my outlet."
The program has a very high attrition rate and has a difficult training pipeline.
"This is a 90x50 foot hovercraft, it weighs about 200 thousand pounds," said Schweizer. "You're controlling it with three different controls. Your feet are doing one job and both hands are doing separate jobs. It takes a lot of coordination and it's not easy."
Training in the simulator and manning the live craft are completely different, and requires a lot of attention.
"You always have that heightened sense of awareness," said Schweizer. "Anticipation of what the craft is going to do and how to counteract it. Never take anything for granted."
On a small craft that is only manned by five personnel, personnel develop a closer relationship with crew members quicker, Schweizer explained.
"They develop that bond because you know that person has your back, or you know that person is looking out for you," said Schweizer. "I know my crew, I know their families, I know what they like to do in their spare time, they know that if they're ever in trouble they know they'll call me first, or they'll call one of their crew members first."