Monday, December 1, 2008

MWSS-172 armorer keeps mission rolling

AL ASAD, Iraq – Tucked away in a corner of the Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 armory, Cpl. Christopher Loftin peered intently at the springs and pins of a trigger mechanism in an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun.

A bead of sweat ran down the Valley Mills, Texas-native’s forehead as me made subtle tweaks and nudges to the weapon – ensuring it would fire correctly.
Loftin undertook similar tasks every day while deployed as an armorer with MWSS-172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). Yet the repetitive nature of the job never dulled Loftin’s concentration. He knew that even in an increasingly peaceful Iraq the weapons he maintained and repaired could still be the only thing between a fellow Marine and an enemy.
“My job kept my unit mission capable in theater,” said Loftin, who recently completed his first combat tour. “Armorers maintain the lifeline of the Corps, their weapons.”

In addition to maintaining, repairing and accounting for the unit’s more than 300 weapons, Loftin dedicated significant time to weapons training.

Some of the Marines and sailors had the opportunity to refine their weapons skills at live-fire shoots at the ranges here, according to Loftin. These refresher courses on weapons employment were critical to mission readiness.

Loftin’s supervisor, Staff Sgt. James Gross, described the 20-year-old as continually focused on his duties and an asset to the unit.

Prior to joining the Corps, Loftin went to college for a year and also worked for his uncle’s construction company. He came to the realization that “something was missing” in his life. Influenced by a friend who had recently joined the Corps, Loftin decided to enlist.

“I joined the Corps for the pride of serving my country,” said Loftin. “In my experiences, I not only have found that pride but have become mentally and physically stronger.”

Buffalo native serves as Huey crew chief in Iraq

AT TAQUADDUM, Iraq – One Buffalo native may be the only female crew chief with the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 here, but that’s not why she stands out among her peers.

With a commitment to excellence and a strong sense of duty, Cpl. Lisa M. Bodenburg, a UH-1N Huey crew chief, has continually distinguished herself in her two years in the Marine Corps.

“Corporal Bodenburg stands out not because she is a female, but because she is very knowledgeable about the job and her performance speaks for itself,” said Sgt. Daniel Basan, a fellow crew chief with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) squadron. “Any command she goes to in the future will be lucky to have an asset like her.”

After graduating with honors from Kenmore East High School in 2005, Bodenburg excelled at boot camp, graduating as her platoon’s honor graduate and earning a meritorious promotion to private first class.

As she advanced in her Marine Corps career, Bodenburg graduated in at least the top four of all her job training courses. She recently earned her combat aircrew wings, allowing her to serve as the mission crew chief without having a training crew chief on board.

Bodenburg also has a flawless physical fitness resume, scoring perfect on nine straight Marine Corps physical fitness tests. She credits that impressive streak to four years of running high school track and cross country.

Graduating high school at 17 years old, she had some time on her hands before she could enlist. Rather than waiting around, she took some college courses and worked at the police department. As soon as she turned 18, she went to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

Before stepping into the Marine recruiter’s office for the first time, Bodenburg wanted to become a force reconnaissance Marine. Discovering that females can’t fill ground combat jobs, she chose one that allowed her to get close to the action but with a birds eye view – a Huey crew chief.

“Crew chief isn’t a job females can easily obtain and at one point in time, couldn’t obtain at all,” said Bodenburg. “Being a crew-chief is how I’m able to get into the fight and help the ground units.”

Her inspiration to join the Marine Corps came from her brother, a policeman with the Baltimore Police Department, and from history classes that highlighted for her how lucky she is to be an American.

“I remember reading the history books and I came to the realization that being an American is a privilege that we have,” said the 20-year-old. “I chose to serve my country out of respect for those who did before me.”

When she originally told her family about her decision to serve in the Marine Corps, her mother didn’t share her enthusiasm. Over time, she accepted and supported her decision to pursue a career in the military.

“I didn’t want her to join the military at all when she got out of high school,” said Cheryl Bodenburg. “However, I support her in every decision that she’s made and I couldn’t be more proud of her for what she’s doing. She’s come a very long way in a job that is pre-dominantly male.”

Bodenburg and HMLA-367 will wrap up their deployment before the end of the year.

Norwich alumnus takes to Iraq skies during second combat deployment

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – When another student mentioned ammunition and weapons in Dustin Blecha’s senior year at Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Colo., Blecha overturned a desk, took cover behind it and pretended to be leading troops on a battlefield.

Teenage Blecha’s passion for all things military suggested that his future included a uniform and a stint in basic training.

He describes his high school self as aggressive and high-strung – a young man who already knew he belonged on the battlefield.

“I was ‘that guy’, already wearing the cammie clothes and combat boots along with a military haircut in high school,” he said.

Today “that guy” stands tall in his flight suit as a UH-1N Huey pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).

After his high school graduation, Blecha headed to Norwich University, in Northfield, Vt., where he enthusiastically embraced the military world.

“It’s a mindset that drove me to the military,” said Blecha. “A lot of my decision to join the military had to do with perception and the way that I perceived the world and understood things.”

The ROTC scholarship recipient decided that joining the corps of cadets at Norwich would help him develop as a leader and emulate the leaders he read about in history books.

During his first week of college, ‘rook week’, he stood in formation with the other freshmen in their tan slacks, white t-shirts and silly purple hats. For one moment he wondered what he’d gotten himself into and what would happen next.

“Hells Bells” by AC/DC blared from stereo speakers. A canon blasted and the freshmen began their lives as cadets. Cadres, as more senior cadets are known, descended on the freshmen.

“That was one of my most memorable weeks in that school,” said Blecha. “Your whole world turns upside down.”

During his sophomore year, Blecha chose to serve as a cadre.

“I thought training the freshman was awesome,” he said with a smile. “It kept me in line and helped me to develop discipline.

“You have to set the standard with physical fitness and appearance and you have to set the standard with grades,” he added.

Blecha was wearing a drill cover and “Hells Bells” had just ended when he met his future wife, Nicole Babis. Needless to say, the couple doesn’t use words like romantic or sweet to describe their first meeting.

Nicole didn’t care for Blecha much when she first met him.

“He was mean and gave the rooks a hard time,” said Nicole, currently an Air Force first lieutenant serving as an operations officer with 4th Operations Support Squadron at Seymore Johnson Air Base in Goldsboro, N.C.

But he never gave up on the rooks, according to Nicole.

The couple began dating after Nicole had completed her first year at Norwich. Two years later when the couple wed, they walked into the reception hall to the tune of “Hells Bells.”

“It was the first song we heard together,” Nicole explained.
“At Norwich, he was all business and he always talked about military history and past battles,” said Nicole. “After the 9/11 attacks, he talked about the future wars we would all be fighting.”

Blecha graduated from Norwich in the spring of 2003 and earned his commission in the Marine Corps May 10, 2003 and headed to Pensacola, Fla., to train as a helicopter pilot.

The 27-year-old has earned the call sign ‘Francis’ from the character of the 1981 movie “Stripes.” His fellow pilots see Francis’ enthusiasm for battle in Blecha.

“He’s a very professional individual who doesn’t get trapped up in minute details and is functionally-minded as well as mission-oriented,” said Capt. Paul Barron, a friend and fellow pilot in HML/A-269. Barron has twice deployed with Blecha.

Blecha and his wife agree that he’s adapted his aggressive passion for the military from mock battles behind overturned desks to a professional passion for being a pilot. Reining in ‘that guy’ has been no small feat and Blecha attributes much of his success to finding “the woman who could put up with a man like him.”

When speaking of his family, comprised of his wife and their 3-year-old son, Blecha’s pride and dedication is obvious.

When he was a cadre, Blecha believed the conduct of his platoon represented him as an instructor and as a person. He sees a similar connection in the relationship between parent and child.

“If they turned out bad, then I didn’t do my job,” said Blecha. “I would really like my mark on the world to be the conduct of my children.”
Blecha will return home to his wife and child in early 2009.

Bellows Falls native returns home after six-month deployment; sees progress in Iraq

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – Crowds of children playfully surrounded Sgt. Karter Elliott while on missions through small Iraqi villages in al-Anbar Province.

The children knew Elliott, a Bellow Falls, Vt. native, as one of the Marines who brought them small toys and candy while leading security patrols with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). The children’s parents, mostly farmers and herdsmen, also recognized Elliott as he always loaded the unit’s patrol vehicles with extra water and food to share with them.

“I enjoy my job out here,” said Elliott during one of his last deployments outside the gates of Al Asad Air Base. “I enjoy helping the people of Iraq. The more they trust and work with me, the more security we can give them.”

Elliott often focused his attention on the children, believing that their trust will contribute to establishing an enduring peace in the region. The three-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom has seen significant progress in the region.
“I like the interaction with the Iraqis,” said Elliott. “It lets me see first hand all the progress that is being made.”

The Bellows Falls Union High graduate followed his older brother, Master Sgt. J.J. Elliott, by enlisting in Marine Corps.

After graduating boot camp, Elliott headed to Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss., where he was trained as a Marine weather observer. Serving as a patrol leader during this deployment took Elliott out of his normal duties, something his brother thinks was good for him.

J.J. Elliott, the operations chief with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, said this deployment helped his brother develop as a leader by putting him in charge at a small unit level.

“It’s important as a sergeant in the Marine Corps to experience leadership at all levels,” said J.J. “This will only develop him as a more well-rounded noncommissioned officer.”

Elliot’s previous combat deployments and his compassion for the Iraqi people set him up for success as a patrol leader, said Gunnery Sgt. Raymond Secoy, Elliott’s supervisor.

“Sgt. Elliott was a great asset to our team,” said Secoy. “He has proven himself as a Marine and a leader.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

U.S. military begins partnership with Haditha Hospital

HADITHA, Iraq – U.S. military medical personnel from the 345th Combat Support Hospital aboard Al Asad Air Base have taken the first steps toward establishing a partnership with the Iraqi hospital here.

Army personnel from the 345th along with service members from the Navy and Marine Corps headed to Haditha Hospital Oct. 30 to participate in the first key leadership engagement between the two hospitals.

The partnership is designed to increase the capabilities and quality of care available at Haditha Hospital. During the visit, Army doctors met with Iraqi doctors and hospital administrators to gather information regarding what it will take to return the Iraqi facility to its full capabilities.

The biggest challenges will be to increase the quality of basic services and modernize the facility that deteriorated under Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to Col. Dwight Shen, the key leader engagement team leader and the deputy chief of clinical services at the 345th CSH. Shen described the hospital’s current state as “primitive.”

The 2nd Class Petty Officers Association out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. helped to kick start the partnership between the two hospitals by donating more than 200 medical textbooks to the hospital. Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Tossetti, a corpsman with 3rd Bn. 7th Marine Regt., participated in the initial visit to the hospital and delivered the textbooks for the association.

“This partnership can only benefit the local people of Haditha,” said Tossetti.
Initially doctors and corpsman from the U.S. military will focus their efforts on teaching Iraqi medical personnel about basic hygiene, infection control, preventative medicine and the essential skills of basic life support, according to Shen.

“This program needs to use all resources available and is not branch specific,” said Shen. “Depending on what Navy, Marine and Air Force personnel are available, their expertise will be fully utilized in supporting this partnership.”

As Shen and the other members of the engagement team toured the 110-bed facility, they noted the hospital’s dire need for basic technology. Patient rooms and surgical suites often lacked monitors, IV machines and standard operating room equipment. The shortage of modern medical equipment puts the Iraqi doctors at a significant disadvantage, according to Shen.

“Once they get this technology, then they need the knowledge to operate the technology,” added Shen. The partnership will help the Iraqis learn how to acquire and operate new medical equipment.

On average, the approximately 25 doctors at Haditha Hospital see about 600 patients a day. The doctors are supported by just five nurses, but a nearby nursing school established in 2007 should help improve the deficit of qualified nurses, according to Shen. The school is the first nursing school in Haditha and provides a three-year training program. Two classes of Iraqi women have enrolled at the school since its doors opened, meaning the hospital should have a fresh crop of 46 qualified nurses by early 2010.

“The Iraqi doctors are well-educated and motivated to provide the best care for their patients and to rebuild their healthcare system,” said Shen.
From Shen’s perspective, U.S. personnel participating in the partnership will also benefit as they learn about the Iraqi healthcare system and contribute to strong, friendly relationships between the two countries.

Shen’s team would like to formalize the partnership within the next few weeks and ensure that it is a program that will continue as U.S. units rotate in and out of the combat support hospital aboard Al Asad Air Base. They’d also like to see the benefits of the program filter out to other Iraqi medical facilities in the region.

New York's 2/25 attacks Shadow Range

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – Activated reserve Marines from the Garden City, New York-based Fox Co., 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) tackled the challenges of combined-arms training here Oct. 20 – 25. The Marines were the first to train at the recently completed training facility known as Shadow Range.

As the role of Marines deployed to Anbar continues to shift to advising Iraqi security forces, the facility affords troops a means of maintaining combined-arms capabilities while supporting over-watch missions in the region.

Fox Co. practiced combat scenarios that challenged their ability to communicate and move under fire. Simulated enemies fired at the Marines from trenches. Marines dashed to covered positions and practiced establishing mortar firing points. Squad leaders barked orders into radio handsets setting teams of Marines in motion on the training range.

The company concluded their training with a live-fire assault course in which the Marines put their refreshed combat skills to the test. Squads moved through the course employing a variety of weapons – mortars, rocket launchers, machine guns and their service rifles. During the movement, they engaged a simulated enemy hidden in the desert hills.

“The company hasn’t had the opportunity to do thorough refresher training,” said Maj. Tom Armas, the company’s commanding officer.

“Now that we have the range, we have the ability to get the Marine skills back up to the level they were when they departed from the states.”

The exercises provided the unit an ideal opportunity to refresh ground combat skills and afforded instructors at the range an opportunity to evaluate the new facility and their curriculum.

“The range is still in testing phase right now,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Stuart White, gunner, Advanced Infantry Training Center, Multi National Forces-West. “After the first group goes through, the instructors will look at the reports and make adjustments to the range to get the most out of the training.”

During their six-month deployment, the unit will continue to rotate Marines through combined-arms training at Shadow Range. Marines who have completed the training will return about once a week to maintain their combat skills.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

3rd MAW (Fwd.) aircraft refuel

AL ASAD, Iraq – A CH-53E Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) receives fuel here Oct. 9. The Super Stallion was preparing for a refueling mission with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), unload refueling equipment from a CH-53E Super Stallion Oct. 9. The Super Stallions flew to a remote helicopter landing pad in al-Anbar Province to refuel vehicles with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – A CH-53E Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 lands at a remote helicopter landing pad in al-Anbar Province Oct. 9. Two Super Stallions with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) squadron refueled vehicles of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – A UH-1 Huey with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 touches down at a remote helicopter landing pad in al-Anbar Province to refuel Oct. 9 during a scouting mission. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fightin’ Fox Marines familiarize themselves with new battle space

AL ASAD, Iraq – Reserve Marines and sailors with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment officially took over external security operations around Al Asad Air Base Sept. 17.

The company, which is attached to Security Battalion, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), replaced an element of Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, who had supported external security operations for the previous seven months.

“Internal security operations could best be described as police work,” said Capt. Darren Wallace, a platoon commander with Company F. “(External security operations) would be considered more of a kind of border security.”

The Albany, N.Y.-based unit conducted three months of pre-deployment training at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., prior to heading to Iraq. The training honed their counterinsurgency skills and familiarized them with the cultural awareness required for their missions in Iraq. “The training we received was very comprehensive and the younger Marines learned the skills necessary to complete this type of mission,” said Sgt. Clayton J. Covel, 25, platoon sergeant, 3rd Platoon, Company F.

In addition to security patrols, the Marines of the company will serve as a quick reaction force and support relationship-building activities with Iraqis in local villages.

Cpl. Joseph J. Schiller, a 23-year-old squad leader with 3rd Platoon, Company F, recognizes the security mission as integral to relationship-building.

“We want to deter any insurgent activity that may be happening in the area so that people can continue with their daily lives without any issues,” said Schiller. He would like to see his squad forge strong friendships with the Iraqis in the area and build on the gains made by previous Coalition forces.

Credit for some of those gains goes to members of Company F, as about one-third of the unit supported operations in Fallujah in 2006.

The unit is a unique combination of deployment experience, Marine Corps training and civilian job skills, according to Wallace.

“We bring more than just infantry skills to the fight,” said Wallace. “Every one of my Marines has a job or skill that is unique in the civilian world. I have gunsmiths, police officers, fire fighters, pharmacists, college students, jet engine manufacturers, prison guards, engineering project managers, systems engineers and many other different civilian jobs in my platoon alone.”

He said the mix enhances the unit’s ability to function independently and with limited resources.

2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment currently has several companies operating in al-Anbar province. The units are slated to support operations here through early 2009.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Aviation ‘pit stop’ keeps operations running in al Anbar Province

MUDAYSIS, Iraq – The Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 recently trekked across the desert to the abandoned remains of an Iraqi air base here to set up an aviation ‘pit stop.’

Called forward arming and refueling points, the pit stop provides Marine aviators a means of supporting missions in remote areas of al Anbar Province.

In a little more than two days, the Marines built a base camp, established air traffic communications and refurbished landing strips to create a fully-functioning refueling point.

MUDAYSIS, Iraq – Heavy equipment operators with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 clear a berm that was obstructing a taxiway here. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) support squadron refurbished the runway and taxiways at the former Iraqi air base in order to establish a forward arming and refueling point. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

MUDAYSIS, Iraq -- Sgt. Elmer Sims, an air traffic control navigational aids technician with Marine Air Control Squadron 1, runs function tests on navigational equipment here Sept. 15. Sims worked with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 to set up operations at the refueling point. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

MUDAYSIS, Iraq – A CH-46E Sea Knight lands here to refuel during a reconnaissance mission in the area Sept. 12. Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 turned an abandoned Iraqi air base into a forward arming and refueling point in just more than two days. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

MUDAYSIS, Iraq -- Three CH-46E Sea Knights land here Sept. 12 to refuel during a reconnaissance mission in the area Sept. 12. Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 turned an abandoned Iraqi air base into a forward arming and refueling point in just more than two days. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

MUDAYSIS, Iraq – Sgt. Kolton Hayden with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion provides security for a CH-46E Sea Knight here Sept. 12. Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 built an arming and refueling point at the former Iraqi air base. The three Sea Knights were the first aircraft to refuel at the site. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Lioness on the Prowl

Note: The Marine Corps “Lioness” program pulls female Marines from various job fields and trains them to conduct searches of Iraqi women at security checkpoints in Iraq. Muslim culture prohibits men from touching women they do not know. The program is the Corps’ way of being culturally sensitive while improving the security of the country.

The lionesses undergo seven days of intensive training during which they learn how to carry out their specific mission of searching female Iraqis. They familiarize themselves with a broader array of weapons, refresh their Marine Corps martial arts skills and learn basic Arabic. Once the training wraps up, the female Marines are paired up and then attached to units doing checkpoint operations across the Anbar Province.

Lance Cpl. Melissa Tugwell is a 23-year-old, Lake Charles, LA-native. She is a combat correspondent with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). She is currently serving as a lioness and will file periodic firsthand reports about the mission.

At the Karma Checkpoint

After completing training, I was assigned to a security checkpoint in Karma, Iraq, with fellow lioness Seaman Christina Follmer. We fell under the supervision of the infantry staff noncommissioned officers of Weapons Platoon, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines.

I’ve found that our mission as lionesses is different than the mission carried out by the first female Marines who manned security check points in Iraq.

With Seaman Follmer, I have spent most of my time at the Karma checkpoint teaching and supervising Iraqi women as they search the women coming through our security point. This is another aspect of the recent turnover of security responsibilities in al Anbar Province to the Iraqi people.

Through the “Sisters of Fallujah” program, Iraqi women are recruited and trained to work at the checkpoints. The Iraqi court in Karma hired the Iraqi women we work with at the security checkpoint. Each woman had to have the blessing of their tribal chief in order to take the job conducting searches.

The crash course in Arabic we got at Camp Habaniyah was vital to our success in this supervisory role, as Seaman Follmer and I showed the Iraqi women how to search people and maintain security at the checkpoint.

As women and children came through the check point, we stood nearby and watched over the Iraqi women. In simple Arabic, we’d make sure that the Iraqi women took their time and thoroughly searched every woman and child, including their purses and other baggage.

With the help of body language, we were able to communicate with the women conducting searches, as they had essentially no understanding of English except for simple greetings, and “yes” and “no.”

Sometimes the Iraqi women standing post would try to let people pass without a complete and thorough search, i.e. not waving everyone with the security wand or not patting them down all the way. We quickly let them know that they must be diligent, carefully searching everyone. Otherwise, they put us at risk, as well as everyone who lives past the checkpoint.

Overall, the Iraqi women responded well to our guidance and supervision. I believe they understood we were there to help them. These women gave Follmer and me small gifts – simple rings and bracelets - to show their appreciation. I like to think they’ll remember us, as I will never forget working with them. I will leave the security checkpoint feeling as though I’ve made a small yet important impact on the quality of life of Iraqi women.

During this particular time in Iraq, we, as lionesses, get to assist in the turnover of responsibility to the Iraqis by employing the Iraqi women to conduct these critical searches instead of us. One day they will be on their own to police their own.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Marine corporal leads construction of new courtroom

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Combat engineer Cpl. John Turpin opened the double doors and took a few familiar steps into the vacant courtroom. Playfully, he said “all rise.”

He moved through the room and looked over the jurors’ box and witness stand, making a few last minute checks. Satisfied, he stood and admired his team’s handiwork.

The legal assistance staff asked Turpin’s team, engineers with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), to construct a courtroom similar to ones back in the United States.

Turpin recently led the team of engineers in turning an empty, dusty 20 x 20 space into a courtroom complete with a judge’s bench, jurors’ box, witness stand and desks for the plaintiff, defendant and the court reporter.

“It will be used for anything to include administrative separations, special courts martial, general courts martial, summary courts martial or anything we will need it for,” explained Navy Lt. Matthew Wooten, a judge advocate for 3rd MAW (Fwd).

Prior to the completion of the courtroom, lawyers and judges found themselves carrying out legal proceedings in makeshift courtrooms that lacked a “certain grandeur,” according to Wooten.

“When you have a courtroom it is easier because you know the needs of the court,” explained Wooten. “Courtrooms are set up the way they are particularly for security purposes and you want to have a certain grandeur to a court proceeding so that all participants understand this is a solemn occasion.”

Creating that atmosphere in a combat zone is not a common task, and the Marines lacked familiarity with the particular carpentry work required. Moreover, the 22-year-old Turpin was put in charge of a new team at the start of the project, and working against a tight deadline, the “getting to know one another phase” had to wait.

“The type of carpentry that was needed we weren’t too familiar with,” said Turpin. “Engineers out here usually fix damaged airfields and such and don’t do many of these projects.”

He and fellow engineer, Sgt. Gabriel Linn, scoured pictures of courtrooms and researched basic woodworking plans to get an idea of how to build it. Turpin familiarized himself with the carpentry and then guided his Marines through the actual building process.
“The entire base will use this courtroom, so it had to be well put together,” explained Turpin, a Shorter, Ala. native.

Turpin, who grew up designing smaller projects to help around the house, used the courtroom project to teach his Marines.

1st Lt. Crystal Serrano, Turpin’s platoon commander, trusted Turpin’s ability to teach the Marines he worked with and drive them to successfully completing the courtroom on time. She knew when she put him in charge of the project that his initiative and resourcefulness would result in a quality product.

Subordinates also shared a faith in his abilities. “Cpl. Turpin is always involving our input into the project so it feels like we are a team and we finished a good project,” said Lance Cpl. Nick Stadler, a 19-year-old combat engineer working under Turpin. “I had a lot of fun working on this project and my skills as an engineer grow everyday that I work for Cpl. Turpin.”

The team cut the first boards and drove in the first nails Aug. 15. Just seven days later, the Al Asad Air Base courtroom stood ready for its first proceedings.

Turpin joined the Corps at the age of 19. He joined for the opportunity to see and interact with different cultures and to become “a more well-rounded person.”

“I extended to make the trip to Iraq,” added Turpin who saw the combat deployment as a unique way to expand his skill set and familiarize himself with another culture.

Turpin will leave Iraq in a few months, but when he departs, his contribution to Al Asad Air Base will remain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

3rd MAW in the News

Dillow's Iraq: Flyboys of Al Asad are O.C.'s homeboys

"Al Asad, Iraq – I've spent most of my time in Iraq over the past five years with Marine infantrymen, the "grunts," the groundpounders. I've never really had a chance to get to know the guys in the sky."

Friday, September 19, 2008

3rd MAW in the News

Another story from's Tim King.

"(AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq) - For Marines at the Al Asad Air Station in Iraq, running base security is a never ending mission. Calling it serious would be a grave understatement, and anyone who attempts to cross these warriors treads on dangerous ground."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

ANGLICO helicopter assault training

Footage of U.S. Marines executing a helicopter assault mission. Scenes include Marines preparing weapons and the helicopter for the mission, firing weapons from the helicopter, footage of artillery exploding on the ground and night vision footage of weapons being used.

Security escorts

Footage of a security company escorting tankers, a vehicle and barriers. Scenes include Marines preparing their security vehicle and guns for the mission, riding through the city to a checkpoint and loading heavy construction equipment onto flatbed trucks.

Marines add security measures to Al Asad Air Base

Story about U.S. Marines welding material to add better security to Al Asad Air Base.

Security Patrol

Footage of Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) conducting mounted security patrols throughout the al Anbar Province to ensure safety and security for local Iraqis as well as provide humanitarian aide.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hometown Hero

Lance Cpl. Riachard C. Bassitt of Bluffton, Ohio.,2008,Sep,12&c=n

3rd MAW in the News

The Beafort Gazette covers the homecoming of VMFA-115 and MALS-31 from a seven-month deployment to al-Asad, Iraq.

"Friends, family members -- and even a few dogs -- braved a sweltering Lowcountry afternoon to welcome home a group of Beaufort Marines."

3rd MAW in the News's Tim King rejoins his former Marine Corps aviation group to see Marines in Iraq performing a role normally filled by infantry units.

"Marines at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq are on a constant vigil, with combat patrols in their area of operation going around the clock."

“Rhinos” use heavy equipment for bridge construction

HABBANIYAH, Iraq – Heavy equipment operators and mechanics from Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), assisted in assembling a Mabey-Johnson float bridge over the Euphrates River here Aug. 14 - 22.

The Marines brought their bulldozers and graters to assist Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, known as Seabees, in clearing approximately four acres of land and filling the future site of the bridge’s access road and ramp with more than 30,000 cubic yards of dirt, explained Staff Sgt. Robert Leatherman, the heavy equipment operations chief with MWSS-374.

For eight days, a team of nine Marines went to the work site at daybreak. The Marines worked 10 hours a day in 100-degree temperatures to make sure the project stayed on schedule.

“The job the Marines and sailors were tasked with is important because without this ramp, vehicles won’t be able to enter or exit the bridge,” said Leatherman. “We had a lot of dirt to move and couldn’t slow down.”

A Mabey-Johnson bridge is a pre-fabricated structure comprised of sections that float on pontoons. Construction crews float the bridge sections onto the river, line them up and weld them together. Each supporting pontoon is anchored to the riverbed to help ensure the sections remain aligned. The bridge is designed to go up quickly without the requirement of the permanent foundation pilings required of more traditional bridges.

Currently units who cross the Euphrates at the bridge site must raft vehicles and equipment across the water or travel more than 45-minutes out of their way to cross the waterway.

Once completed, the bridge will reduce travel times for Coalition and Iraqi forces using the supply route in the area, explained Army Capt. Michael Hardy, commanding officer of the 341st Engineer Company.

The bridge will provide a long-term solution for convoys following the supply route. It is schedule for completion later this month.

MACS-1 sailors earn FMF badges

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Six Navy air traffic controllers with Marine Air Control Squadron 1 joined a small group of air traffic controllers Sept. 2 when the squadron commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jeff Kojac, presented their Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialist badges during a ceremony here.

Of more than 2,500 Navy ATCs, only about 15 percent have FMF badges, according to Master Chief Petty Officer Jeff Brown, who works at the Navy Personnel Command and manages assignments for Navy air traffic controllers.

Navy ATCs rarely find themselves attached to Marine units. “When I first saw my deployment orders, I was nervous because I had no idea what ‘MAG’ was short for,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Joanne Saalfrank, an FMF badge recipient from Westfield, Mass.

The sailors, whose squadron falls under 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd.), completed a four-month course that taught basic Marine Corps knowledge. During the course, Saalfrank and her fellow sailors not only learned that MAG stands for Marine Aircraft Group, but also gained in-depth knowledge of Marine Corps structure, missions, and combat skills. The sailors had to take their sea legs to the dusty hills of al-Asad to complete a land navigation course, pass the Marine Corps physical fitness test and complete a 150-question comprehensive course exam.

The instructors, primarily Marine NCOs and Navy petty officers who’ve earned the badge, challenged the sailors with an intense physical training program and provided hands-on lessons in combat life saving and weapons handling skills.

Sgt. Emilio Luna, an armorer with Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd MAW (Fwd.), led the sailors through basic weapons handling classes. The classes taught the sailors how to identify weapons conditions, breakdown various weapons for maintenance and cleaning and basic weapons handling.

“They all had a hunger for the knowledge and were eager to get hands-on with the weapons, which motivates me to teach them everything I can,” said Luna.
As the sailors progressed through the condensed curriculum – stateside sailors have up to 18 months to complete the self-paced curriculum – they continued to perform their regular duties.

“The hardest part was balancing demanding work schedules with the course schedule,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Boddie, a badge recipient from Atlanta, Ga.
Sailors do not have to earn the FMF badge to serve with Marine units. The MACS-1 sailors saw earning the badge as an opportunity for professional development that they couldn’t pass up.

“It’s something we wanted to do,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jose Diaz, a badge recipient from Chicago. “By demonstrating our knowledge of the Marine Corps structure, we become even bigger assets to our commands.”

Once the sailors complete their tour with MACS-1, they will return to their duty stations, ready to pass their knowledge and experience to other Navy controllers.

MWSS-274 provides security, essential services to local villages

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – For seven months, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274’s security battalion has patrolled the desert outside the gates of Al Asad Air Base 24 hours a day.

While patrolling the area, the Marines of the security battalion do more than look for suspicious activity. They go out of their way to interact with the locals and conduct missions that provide the air base’s Iraqi neighbors with essential services and a jumpstart on developing infrastructure.

Interactions with the Iraqis vary from casual conversations to push-up challenges to playing with bubbles. The actions of the Marines go a long way toward building relationships among the local population. These relationships are essential to the primary purpose of the security patrols – gaining information critical to maintaining security for the air base and the local Iraqis.

The Marines spend time getting to know the locals they meet by inquiring about their culture and way of life, leaving the Iraqis with a sense of safety and friendship when they see the Marines, explained Sgt. Karter Elliott, a patrol leader with the squadron which falls under Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).

Through interpreters, Marines ask simple questions of the farmers and villagers they meet.

Interpreters are essential while on the patrols, according to Cpl. Charles Faust, a patrol navigator. “Sometimes when we don’t have one, we have to use hand gestures making it hard to have a humble conversation without confusion,” he said.

The humble, hand-gestured conversations are often coupled with magic tricks, boxes of soccer balls and the occasional bout of arm wrestling, but not all relationship-building efforts are fun and games.

During a late-August mission to the small villages of Harwan and Sahl, corpsman and doctors from the squadron provided essential, basic medical care to community members.

“The people are typically farmers and sheep herders,” said Staff Sgt. James Altman, the Headquarters and Service Company training staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “They do not have ready access to medical facilities and rarely see doctors for care except when provided by the Marines and sailors of MWSS-274.”

During the visit, corpsmen distributed vitamins and performed cursory health exams. Squadron doctors evaluated medical conditions to identify any potentially high-risk situations that could require treatment at a medical facility.

In addition to providing essential medical services, the squadron has coordinated with stateside organizations to support “Operation Backpack: Kids helping Kids.” The program puts school supplies in the hands of Iraqi children. Through the coordination of Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Vance, and donations from Iverson Elementary School in Las Vegas and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Wilmington, N.C., more than 360 backpacks with school supplies have been handed out to Iraqi children living near the air base.

“They are obviously less fortunate than us,” said Elliott. “I feel bad for the kids because they live a rough life and anything we give them is worth it.”

The security patrols have also presented the Marines of the squadron with opportunities to help the Iraqis of nearby villages build a more solid infrastructure. The Marines have assisted in refurbishing buildings, re-establishing running water and bringing electricity back on line, according to Sgt. Andres Duran, a patrol leader with the squadron.

“At this point in Iraq we are all about helping out in any way we can,” said Vance. “These types of humanitarian missions build morale and trust with the people and help them get on their feet.”

VMU-2 taps out martial arts: 103 Marines advance belt level

AT TAQADDUM, Iraq- All it takes for a Marine to take down an attacker twice his or her size is a bit of confidence, proper technique and joint manipulation.

Marines with Marine Unmanned Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 28, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), took the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program to a whole new level, upgrading more than 100 Marines in the three months they’ve been in theater.

So far this deployment, 21 Marines earned their black belts, 21 Marines advanced to brown belt, 25 earned green belts, and 36 advanced to gray belt.

“Every day there is a class going on,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey Martin, the operations chief and martial arts instructor. “At least one hour a day, Marines in the squadron are doing MCMAP.”

The desert environment and the strict physical requirements of the training are a challenge the Marines of the squadron have embraced. They can be found pounding their fists into punching pads and sparring with training partners in temperatures well over 100 degrees.

“I think it helps make us better war fighters,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Diggs, the squadron sergeant major. “You always hope in the time of war or any conflict, resorting to martial arts would not be necessary. However, it’s something that’s great to know.”

MCMAP sharpens a combat mindset and maintains mission readiness, explained Diggs, who earned his black belt after training with Martin during their last deployment.

“If you find yourself in that situation where there’s no other choice, Marines are confident to get the job done,” said Diggs.

Along with helping hone Marines’ skills as fighters, the program includes discussions about ethics and Marine Corps policy. The Corps integrated these discussions into MCMAP to help develop Marines as “ethical warriors.” As a group, the Marines develop character, discipline and a combat mindset through training and studying the Marine Corp’s core values.

In the words of Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, “MCMAP provides leaders at every level with a method for developing all Marines as riflemen and ethical warriors - Marines who keep their honor clean and always stand for something good.”

“Not only was it fun, but I learned more mental and physical discipline than I previously had,” said Cpl. Richard Larkin, an unmanned aerial vehicle operator.
Martin, who has spearheaded the initiative to make one of the Corps’ most deployed squadrons also one of its most comprehensively MCMAP-trained squadrons, said the command’s support of the training has been integral to its success.

He describes a feeling of achievement when witnessing a Marine’s expression when “it finally clicks” and the moves are properly executed.

“The best part of being a martial arts instructor is having the chance to get out and get dirty with the Marines,” said Martin. “My favorite part is seeing when smaller females can take down bigger males by applying the proper techniques,” said Martin.

Friday, September 12, 2008

CG gets bird’s eye view of Harrier operations

AL ASAD, Iraq – As the commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), Brig. Gen. Randolph G. Alles has visited and flown with every squadron under his command – even those squadrons whose aircraft don’t come with passenger seats.

Through mixed section flights, Alles takes his more than 30 years of experience as an F/A-18 pilot to the air alongside the AV-8B Harriers flown by the “Tomcats” of Marine Attack Squadron 311.

The flights provide the general with an up-close view of day-to-day operations of the squadron while providing the Harrier pilots with a unique opportunity to familiarize themselves with the capabilities of the Marine Corps’ other fixed-wing attack jet.

While Alles can settle into the jump seat of an Osprey, strap into the fuselage of a C-130J or hunker down in a humvee, the only way for him to see VMA-311 in action is from the cockpit of a Hornet.

“I want to see how the squadron operates,” said Alles who has flown several sorties during the past month. “I fly to see how the wing does business.”

The squadron sees the CG’s participation in mixed section flights as evidence of his interest in the squadron and how it fits into the wing’s mission.

“This is a great way for the CG to come down, fly with us and motivate our Marines. It shows that he is interested in our squadron,” said Lt. Col. John H. Cane, commanding officer of the Tomcats.

Capt. Mark Ferguson, a Harrier pilot with VMA-311, flew with Alles during an Aug. 21 over watch mission for ground troops patrolling an al-Anbar city. During the flight, Ferguson and the general served as the ground unit’s eyes in the sky, enhancing their situational awareness.

“Anytime as a community we can learn from each other we benefit by finding better or more efficient ways to do things which ties back to why we’re here – to support the troops on the ground,” said Ferguson.

“The mixed flights show how different platforms from Marine tactical air can work together,” he added.

Another Tomcats pilot who’s flown with Alles, Maj. John D. Ferguson, described the mixed section flights as “positive experiences.”

“It’s like the CO walking through his company spaces,” said Maj. Ferguson. “I think leaders need to know what’s going on in order to make informed decisions. Obviously he has a lot of experience, but it’s that extra piece that you know he’s been out here.”

Alles intends to continue to join Harrier pilots from VMA-311 in close air support missions until the squadron heads back to the states.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Lioness on the Prowl

Note: The Marine Corps “Lioness” program pulls female Marines from various job fields and trains them to conduct searches of Iraqi women at security checkpoints in Iraq. Muslim culture prohibits men from touching women they do not know. The program is the Corps’ way of being culturally sensitive while improving the security of the country.

The lionesses undergo seven days of intensive training during which they learn how to carry out their specific mission of searching female Iraqis. They familiarize themselves with a broader array of weapons, refresh their Marine Corps martial arts skills and learn basic Arabic. Once the training wraps up, the female Marines are paired up and then attached to units doing checkpoint operations across the Anbar Province.

Lance Cpl. Melissa Tugwell is a 23-year-old, Lake Charles, LA-native. She is a combat correspondent with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). She is currently serving as a lioness and will file periodic firsthand reports about the mission.

Report #1: Training

When I arrived at Camp Habaniyah to become a “lioness,” I felt like I was enrolling at a women’s college in a foreign country, not knowing exactly what I was going to major in. Female Marines of all different ages, races, religions, hometowns and job specialties are tapped for this assignment.

All the soon-to-be lionesses quickly bonded, as we collectively wondered what was ahead of us. We'd heard what it's like being a lioness, but everyone had different stories and no one was really sure.

The training has been a mix of classes with Power Point demonstrations and a series of practical applications of the classroom concepts. We’ve gotten a lot of information in a short period of time. We had just seven days of training before we would officially be lionesses and sent off to different units. Every minute of these seven days of training has been jam-packed to get us completely ready.

Our first subject - Arabic 101. We learned words, phrases and numbers to communicate with the women of Iraq. We also learned how to ask basic questions such as "How are you?", "How many children do you have?”, and "Where do you live?"

Our language instructor was an Iraqi civilian who grew up in Bagdad. He quickly became a friend to all of us. He shared with us his experiences growing up and the changes that have taken place. Talking with him was insightful and gave me a deeper understanding of their culture, religion and way of living.

Everyone displayed a genuine curiosity about the Iraqi culture and language. Bridging the language barrier is critical for lionesses to effectively do our job and show the Iraqi civilians that we care and that we are here to help.

Moving out of the classroom, we conducted a practical application of a security checkpoint where role players pretended to be Iraqi females. As soon as the scenario kicked off, everyone realized just how difficult it is to apply the Arabic we learned in the classroom. There are so many dialects of Arabic and all of them have different slang. Our confidence grew, however, as we repeated the rehearsals. We learned what we needed to get the mission accomplished.

Other topics covered during the training included convoy operations, combat life-saving skills, maintaining a combat mindset, Marine Corps martial arts and the proper ways of searching female Iraqis. We also spent a lot of time at the range shooting our M-16 and M-4 service rifles, the M-240 squad automatic weapon, M-249 medium machine gun and AK-47 automatic rifles. In one day, we shot over 4,000 rounds of ammunition.

By the end of the training, our “cammies” could literally stand up alone from the sweat of training in the desert. 19 female Marines had quickly adjusted to a new environment and a new mission. The days flew by with the fast-paced schedule. I was exhausted at the end of each day, which made showering and brushing my teeth at the end of the day seem like a chore. Some spent their little free time reading and studying. Others, myself included, gathered in the smoke pit to discuss their thoughts about the experience.

Now that it’s time to head off to our units, everyone is excited to put our training to the test of being lionesses.

*Photo courtesy of The Lioness officer-in-charge 1stLt. Jessica Millanes