Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Marines assist Iraqi brigade to secure Western borders

Cpl. Jessica Aranda

AL WALEED, Iraq (April 17, 2008) – Border enforcement, the foundation in building a nation’s security, is an important line of defense against threats entering Iraq.

The Marines of the Border Transition Team for the Iraqi 5th Brigade, 2nd Region train, mentor and advise Iraq’s Department of Border Enforcement on a daily basis, ensuring security of the region.

The BTT members, all augments of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, work most frequently with the Desert Wolves, the headquarters of the 5th Brigade, who heads three battalions responsible for deterring all illegal cross-border activity in their area of operations.

The mission of the Desert Wolves includes securing the Iraqi-Jordanian and Syrian borders; preventing terrorists and smugglers from entering the country. They work out of border forts— small cement structures located just inland of the border, to prevent any illegal entries.

“By degrading the enemy’s access to weapons and reinforcements into the country, the Desert Wolves are establishing a safer place for the free-Iraqi people and the coalition forces here to support them,” said Capt. Wade Fairbanks, the operations officer for the BTT.

“We are trying to train the Desert Wolves to function effectively as a unit and support their subordinate units,” continued Fairbanks. “Instead of providing solutions for our counterparts, our focus is helping them develop their own solutions.”

The BTT trains the Desert Wolves in every aspect; from logistics and communication to the fundamentals of leadership. They teach them the importance of working through a chain-of-command and documenting all work procedures.
The team, along with members of the U.S. Border Patrol, monitors all training evolutions to ensure technical and tactical proficiency.

When working with the Desert Wolves, the BTT conforms to the Iraqi custom of becoming friends with the unit’s personnel before conducting business. Friendships and familiar faces create trust, and teaching begins once that trust is established.

Since the Department of Border Enforcement rotates shifts regularly the Marines face challenges in making progress with the new staff.

To combat the complexities of the continuously fluid environment, the Marines use ingenuity and wit to accomplish their mission, explained Fairbanks.

“Our daily presence is what is making a difference,” explained WO1 Oscar Gonzalez, the logistics officer for the BTT.

As the Iraqis begin adapting the procedures taught by the Marines, the BTT can assume the role of a supervisor. One example of success for the Desert Wolves is their first Iraqi-planned and executed convoy from Al-Waleed to Baghdad, some 550 kilometers away.

“The Marines have made most of the soldiers here become ‘real soldiers’ by pushing them into a military way of life,” said Iraqi Staff Col. Attia Al-Ali, the superior officer for the Desert Wolves.

“The Marines provide my guys with constant training in communications, logistics, medical training, inspections and even ethics.”

We now have a unit that can secure and control the borders of Iraq, explained Al-Ali.

“We could not do our job without the help of the Marines and the coalition forces,” he concluded.

Marines, UN visit Palestinian refugee camp

Cpl. Jessica Aranda

The Border Transition Team of the Iraqi 5th Brigade, 2nd Region, made up of Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, escorted staff from the United Nations to assess the living conditions of more than 1700 Palestinian refugees here.

Humanitarian assistance projects such as this complement the security provided by the Border Transition Team and symbolize how the Marine Corps reaches past their normal operations to assist local nationals.

Because of a continuous influx into the camp, Multi National Force – West tasked the Marines at Combat Outpost Waleed to support the U.N's High Commissioner for Refugees' mission. The Marines escorted the U.N. staff to the refugee camp, in an effort to offer a safe, sanitary way of life.

"We provided the logistical, transportation and security support for U.N. personnel in order to allow them to conduct humanitarian aide efforts," said 1st Lt. Michael Miller, the mission commander and intelligence officer for the Border Transition Team of the Iraqi 5th Brigade, 2nd Region.

The mission lasted two days, allocating the representatives enough time to conduct a detailed survey of the area. The Marines transported the staff in a convoy both days, posted security during the mission and provided billeting for the staff at the outpost.

"We came here in a combined effort to do technical assessments to improve the water, hygiene and sanitation conditions of the camp," said Marilyn Virrey-Raguin, a U.N. representative. "Because of the war, we have many challenges in accessing sites like this one, so the security protocols provided by the Marines were critical to our mission."

All of the displaced personnel once fell under the regime of Saddam Hussein. After his fall in 2003, the men, women, and children were forced by the Iraqis to flee Baghdad. With no where else to go, they found a safe haven just minutes away from the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Their camp consists of a mass of tattered tents in the open desert, surrounded by trash and a small, gapping concertina-wire boundary. To outsiders, this may look like a third-world great depression, but for the Palestinian children, it is all they know.

After walking around the camp and talking with the refugees, the U.N. representatives head back to their respective headquarters to report their findings and begin planning for improvements.

"Walking around the camp, you see these tough Marines become soft-hearted at the sight of these kids," said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Hurst, the intelligence chief for the BTT. "I think it’s a good thing we are doing this and we are happy to be a part of any mission to help them.”

The BTT Marines escort the U.N. to visit and assess the camp each month.

Friday, April 25, 2008

One step closer; MWSS-172 provides key step in mission-accomplishment

Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (April 24, 2008) – The dedicated Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), provide a pivotal link between the aviation and ground combat elements by modifying existing helicopter-landing zones at various locations in Iraq and creating new ones from scratch.

The HLZs become a key piece of real estate, serving as a solid landing area for rotary-wing aircraft, delivering Marines and fresh supplies into the fight.

“Every landing zone we create or modify brings us another step closer to catching the enemy,” said Staff Sgt. Donald E. Stehley Jr., the heavy equipment maintenance chief with MWSS-172. “We’re taking outdated LZs and improving them for the betterment of the coalition’s mission in Iraq.”

During the missions, Marines battle the desert heat while braving the dangers that exist outside the perimeter of Al Asad Air Base.

Using heavy equipment, the Marines level the area, compact the dirt and lay down a coat of “rhino snot,” a soil-stabilizing substance which hardens the ground, preventing excessive dirt and sand clouds, or “brownouts,” when aircraft land on site.

Limiting brownouts increases visibility, allowing pilots to land their aircraft safely.

“Having these Marines improve this LZ will allow us to continue to conduct operations out here and sustain a safe and smooth command post,” said Maj. Paul D. Mackenzie, the future-operations planner with Multi National Force – West. “We’re heavily dependent on the air wing for resupplies, close-air support and aerial reconnaissance missions.”

The sustainment of these landing zones prolongs its operating length, allowing each site to sustain a sufficient mission pace in order to accomplish tasks as needed.

“By coming out here and doing this type of job, it puts the hard work and training these Marines do prior to deployment into perspective,” said Warrant Officer Owen B. Pottorff, the heavy equipment platoon commander for MWSS-172. “Knowing the large-scale impact our Marines have on the war effort makes them feel better about their job.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Can you hear me now?

Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

AL ASAD, Iraq — Communication and data exchange are vital tools in the war on terrorism.

The United States’ ability to have a sustained strategic battlefield and base-to-base communication system provides all service members an advantage in everyday operations.

Marine Wing Communication Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), provides the vital communication link between several bases operating in the western Anbar Province and with units back in the states.

“We are a centralized communication unit that provides 24-hour continual service to support all operations and facilitate the movement of all information on and off the base,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Puente, data chief with Company A, MWCS-38. “Without us here, there would be no internet, email or any other form of communication available.”

Marines work around the clock, maintaining the network’s infrastructure, ensuring no unit operates without the necessary information-flow needed to complete their mission.
“Continual service ensures battle commanders can visually see what’s taking place and make sound decisions based on the information in front of them,” said Puente.

Troubleshooting and adjusting to the system’s ever-changing capabilities remain a constant component of the job.

Working side-by-side with civilian contractors, the system has become virtually flawless, creating endless forms of back-up power and network mapping so it remains running all hours of the day.

In addition to data control and exchange, MWCS-38 also maintains the equipment used in the communication process.

A maintenance section within the squadron fixes radio and computer systems for all wing units and for some Army and Air Force commands stationed aboard Al Asad Air Base.

The squadron supports the large spectrum of 3rd MAW (Fwd.) issues by ensuring desktops, laptops, printers and fiber optic cables used in the data-exchange process remain in good working condition.

“We have a huge responsibility out here in Iraq. The network here is one of the largest communication networks in a deployed environment,” said Capt. Jonathan L. Camarillo, Company A commander. “Our Marines do a great job by remaining sharp and focused, knowing that without communication, Marines and all service members operating here cannot successfully complete their mission.”

Teamwork allows HMLA 169 to provide effective CAS

Staff Sgt. Ryan O'Hare

Taqaddum, Iraq (April 17, 2008) - Utilizing a combination of helicopters to assist ground troops during missions allows the ‘Vipers’ of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 to merge the unique capabilities of both their aircraft.

The twin engine UH-1N, otherwise known as the ‘Huey’ along side the AH-1W Super Cobra, simultaneously provide protection as well as aerial reconnaissance to units in the fight.

“The basic philosophy between the combination is that there are some things the Hueys can do, that the Cobras can’t, and vice-versa,” said Capt. Richard Alcabes, HMLA 169, UH-1N pilot. “Call it Batman and Robin if you will, but the combination is very effective.”

The majority of missions supported by the Vipers consist of troop inserts, close air support and convoy assistance.

“The Hueys work together very well with the Cobras,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Barrett, UH-1N crew chief. “We have the capability to bring the heavy firepower from the Cobras and also the good coverage that the Hueys can provide.”

This unique aerial partnership between the two helicopters allows for effective results, despite their difference in age.

“The Hueys have been around since the Vietnam era,” commented Barrett, a Bettendorf, Iowa, native. “Most of them are older than I am, but it’s a tried and true platform and they continue to be successful.”

Although the Huey has been in service for more than 40 years, modifications and updates make it a valuable Marine Corps asset.

“It’s kind of unique within the rotary-wing to begin with,” said Barrett. “It really allows us to configure the aircraft in several different ways, so that we can provide troop inserts, light cargo lifts and also act as a gun ship.”

Although the Huey does have room for supplies and light troop numbers, its combat capabilities are far surpassed by that of the Cobra.

According to Alcabes, the Cobra is specifically designed for attack missions. The air to air combat capabilities and the ability to fire missiles and other ordnance makes the Cobra a great escort for the UH-1N.

“The Cobra provides the speed and maneuvering that we can’t,” said Alcabes. “It also has precision-guided ordnance, making it a very effective weapon in the sky.”

With each helicopter working together as a team, the unique partnership within HMLA-169 will continue to provide effective support to troops on the ground as well as efficient intelligence capabilities in the air.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New IA training center to increase formal instruction

Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

CAMP MEJID, Iraq (April 15, 2008) – Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq, the organization responsible for the development and training of Iraqi Security Forces, participated in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new divisional training center here today.

The DTC, one of several being built across Iraq, will provide ongoing individual and small unit training to the 7th Iraqi Army Division and subordinate units, prior to participating in combat operations.

“It is imperative the Iraqi soldiers get sound, fundamental, combat basic training, in order to sustain themselves for the future,” said Army Lt. Col. Curt A. Grayer, the senior advisor for the DTC here. “We are dedicated to building a world class training center that will provide outstanding opportunities for the soldiers to become a more cohesive, combat-effective fighting team.”

Once the facility is completed, the organization intends to train high-level Iraqi soldiers to become instructors who will eventually train their own men, enabling the army to become more independent and self sufficient in the process.

Today’s ceremony signified the beginning of phase one of a four phase plan.

The first phase is the construction of a combat assault course, which is scheduled to consist of more than 22 obstacles for the soldiers to maneuver during training.

“This course will promote teamwork while developing a heightened sense of awareness, greater endurance, stronger drive and competitive spirit, while improving overall physical conditioning,” said Grayer.

Future construction phases include classrooms for military education, a small-arms range and a military operation on urban terrain area.

“This site will provide a good opportunity for the Iraqis to increase their war-fighting capabilities,” said Marine Sgt. Jarad K. Stout, the training chief for the 7th Infantry Division Military in Transition Team. “We are looking forward to the completion of the project and to working with the Iraqis on the fire ranges and obstacles.”

The DTC will support the army’s overall training system by building and expanding from existing modules, while bringing the training to their own base.

“We are very excited to have the training center open for the 7th Division,” said Iraqi Staff Brig. Gen. Abdullah Mohammad Bayder al-Jabouri, through interpretation, the commanding general for the 7th Infantry Division. “The Iraqi Army is proud to see positive feelings toward them and we realize the new training center will make us a stronger army against the enemy.”

The construction is scheduled to be completed in six to nine months.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Iraqi faces on Iraqi jobs

Cpl. Scott McAdam

AL-ASAD, Iraq (April 7, 2008) – In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Iraqi people are showing progress though their government works, rebuilding projects, and police and military operations. At Al Asad Air Base, Iraqi soldiers work in conjunction with the Marine Corps, keeping the air base secure by manning the main entry control point aboard the installation.

According to Master Sgt. Joseph P. Beall, Charlie Company first sergeant, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), the long term goal is to turn over all entry control points to the Iraqis.

“This is a very long term goal, but you’ve got to take baby steps first,” said Beall, a Savanna, Ga., native. “The best thing about this is that we are putting an Iraqi face on an Iraqi job.”

At the ECP, the Iraqi soldiers focus on checking manifests, searching vehicles and counting the number of Iraqi soldiers, police and local nationals entering base. After the checks, the soldiers relay the information to MWSS-274.

Though the Iraqi soldiers have only been on the gate for little more than a week, they’ve already shown signs of progress.
“They’re adjusting to their job; learning who can come on base and the regulations they must follow,” said Beall. “As the days go by, we see less and less of the (Military in Transition Teams).”

To train for their post mission, MiTT-0720, 7th Iraqi Army Division, instructs the Iraqi soldiers on security, weapons handling, inspections and search training, with a large emphasis on dealing with the public.

“They’ve come a long way since we started,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Q. Magann, military police advisor, MiTT-0720, 7th Iraqi Army Division.

Magann has worked with the MiTT team for the past six months and says the language barrier is one of the largest obstacles the two forces encounter.

To overcome the language difficulty between the two militaries, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers use interpreters, but mainly rely on hand and arm signals to communicate effectively.

"Things get a little difficult when there are two different languages involved,” said Cpl. Ryan S. Gagnon, dismount and combat lifesaver, MWSS-274, “But sticking your thumb up is the universal signal for ‘okay’.”

Iraqi Pfc. Abdul Star Shaker, intelligence soldier, MiTT-0720, feels this training helps the Iraqi soldiers learn the proper way to do their job.

For Shaker, being an army soldier holds more meaning than checking identification on gates or securing an air base.

“I joined the army to help protect the Iraqi people and help stop the aggression of the insurgents because they kill innocent people,” said Shaker. “We all have that responsibility as Iraqis.”

Incident response service members train to keep al-Asad contaminate free

Cpl. Scott McAdam

AL-ASAD, Iraq (April 5, 2008) – Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons are all potential threats today’s war fighter could encounter. Fortunately, every branch of the U.S. military has service members charged with protecting the armed forces from these unconventional hazards.

To combat these threats, CBRN Marines with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) host joint-service training with the Army aboard Al Asad Air Base, to increase the effectiveness of their incident response capabilities in Iraq.

During the training, the service members focused on refreshing their skills and using newer technologies.

“Because the threat in Iraq is more (from) toxic industrial chemicals than chemical warfare, we are familiarizing ourselves with new equipment and (standard operating procedure) to adjust to the threat,” said Sgt. Stefan Stelzenmueller, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives specialist, MWHS-3.

According to Army 1st Lt. Jared Young, CBRN officer, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, because his soldiers are not currently in a CBRN unit, the training had two advantages: the opportunity for hands-on experience and helping his soldiers refocus on their military occupational specialty.

“(The Marines) are great and allow us to use their equipment and facilities and coordinate with the instructors,” added Young, a Burley, Ind., native.

During the training, the Marines and soldiers set up a contamination scenario involving several chemicals in a simulated environment. The Marines and soldiers then tested the chemicals, took samples, and decontaminated.

Using a hazardous material identification system, the CBRN specialists can identify a substance within 99 percent accuracy.

According to Stelzenmueller, training the Army will allow the Base CBRN Marines the ability to draw on Army resources and manpower in the event of a large-scale contamination response.

“As far as my own Marines go, this (training) enhances our response capability exponentially,” added Stelzenmueller, a Portland, Ore. native.

VMU-1’s first deployment with Shadow successful

Staff Sgt. Bobbie Bryant

AL-TAQADDUM, Iraq (April 16, 2008) Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 ended a historical seven-month deployment at Camp Al-Taqaddum, Iraq and is heading home to Twentynine Palms, Calif.

This deployment was the first time the Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle was tested in a combat environment, replacing the older Pioneer UAV.

“The Shadow’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance services help reduce the utilization rates of fixed and rotary wing aircraft supporting the ISR mission, thus reducing the cost to the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Geoffrey H. Field, commanding officer of VMU-1.

Both the Shadow and Pioneer have similar capabilities, however the most noteworthy difference saved the unit on man-hours and replacement parts.

The Marines of VMU-1 cite that the Shadow needs less maintenance to operate than the Pioneer does. On average it is about two man-hours for one hour of flight for Shadow as compared to more than three man-hours for one flight-hour of Pioneer.

“We refuel it, go over all the surfaces and oil it. Everything is usually in good working order. We wipe everything down after every flight to assist in corrosion prevention and to keep the dust off,” said Lance Cpl. Drew M. Hurst, a UAV mechanic from St. Augustine, Fla. “We used to replace propellers all the time on the Pioneer but not so much with Shadow.”

The Shadow’s technological advances and reduced maintenance requirements give the Marines of VMU-1 confidence in the platform and its future.

“I felt that it would be much easier to maintain and operate and it exceeded my expectations,” said Field. “The technology will keep growing, providing better communications capability, better payloads, and hopefully one day the Shadow will have an onboard weapons system.”

Since the unit deployed in September 2007, the Shadow flew in over 480 sorties with more than 2,500 flight hours with zero mishaps.

“All the Marines with VMU-1 have done a great job in ensuring our missions were a success,” Wheeler said. “Our unit has deployed every year since this war has started. Some of our Marines are going on their fourth and fifth tours. We are proud of each and every one of them.”

Strong NCOs key to engineers’ success in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Bobbie Bryant

AL-TAQADDUM, Iraq (April 16, 2008) – Over 21,300 man-hours performed by a handful of combat engineers led by four noncommissioned officers added up to one thing for their mission in Iraq-success.

Engineer Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), can take pride in their Marines’ efforts as they wrap up a seven-month deployment at Camp Al-Taqqadum, Iraq, this month.

The company completed over 200 projects by creating four construction project teams that included Marines with combat engineers, utilities and heavy equipment platoons.

Gunnery Sgt. Jason R. Gillespie, Construction Platoon’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge, attributes the unit’s success to the many strong NCOs who led their own project team.

“This is by far the strongest core of noncommissioned officers that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They are a solid group of Marines,” said Gillespie, a Dixie, Wash., native. “They have the ability to adapt and overcome no matter what the situation is. They took charge of the tasks they were given. I could send out a corporal or a sergeant as a project leader with a group of seven to eight Marines and they always finished ahead of time and exceeded my expectations.”

One project alone took over 7,000 man-hours as they made rapid repairs to the runway. The repairs were completed in small sections so they did not interfere with normal operations.

“That job wasn’t always a pleasant experience,” said Sgt. Joshua M. Junge, a Construction Platoon team leader, from Deshler, Ohio. “We were in winds at approximately 30 mph and the temperature was in the teens during winter months. We were running a jack hammer and pouring concrete. We had to constantly be moving.”

If planes cannot land or taxi, then supplies and troops cannot get where they need to be in a timely matter. According to the NCOs, their Marines understand and relish the fact that repairing the runway is essential to the overall mission here.

Even though the airfield was a huge project for the Marines, they were able to provide many services necessary to support the air combat element. Some of the other projects were: reconnaissance and survey, construction and maintenance of mission-essential base requirements such as bunkers, aircraft parking areas, and billeting.

Marines also had a hand in multiple smaller projects such as roofs, decks, offices and awnings. They made repairs to office walls and the gym and installed windows, framed A/C units, and drafted helicopter landing zones, to name a few.

The team leaders spoke highly of their Marines, pointing out what contributed to their mission accomplishments.

“We had a lot of hard workers who adapted to the conditions and workload. They overcame the challenges and were flexible. They took things in stride as some of the projects were mentally challenging for them,” said Sgt. Derek A. Kenney, a team leader with Construction Platoon., who hails from St. Petersburg, Fla. “This deployment has taught me a lot about what one team of Marines can accomplish.”

As a result of the efforts from the engineers, one look around Al-Taqaddum and the surrounding area is solid proof that these Marines have greatly contributed to the growth and development here. Not only did they leave their boot prints but they left a lasting impression to be enjoyed by service members and Iraqi citizens.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coming full circle, Iraqi born Marine receives American citizenship in country of his birth.

Story by Cpl. Scott McAdam

BAGHDAD — “For all of you, the oath of citizenship is more than a formality. And today, America is more than your home; it’s your country. This is one of the things that makes our country so unique. With a single oath, all at once you become as fully American as the most direct descendant of a founding father.” – President George W. Bush

Lance Cpl. Evan Eskharia, a basic water systems technician with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), received his United States citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at al-Faw Palace, Baghdad, April 12.

Receiving his U.S. citizenship in the war-torn country of his birth represents the culmination of his family’s determination and will to flee an oppressive regime and seek the freedoms and opportunities only offered in America.

“This is in my top three proudest days of my life,” said Eskharia, who lived in El Cajon, Calif., prior to joining the Marine Corps. “It’s up there with the birth of my son and receiving my eagle, globe and anchor.”

The naturalization ceremony was the largest outside the United States, with 259 service members from 71 different countries receiving their citizenship.

“It’s that feeling in your heart, that now you’re a U.S. citizen; it feels really good,” Eskharia added.

When Eskharia was 9 years old, he and his family fled Iraq to Turkey due to Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. At the time, when an Iraqi boy turned 16, he would be drafted into the Iraqi military. Having five male children, Eskharia’s mother and father decided they would rather leave the country than see their children become a part of Saddam’s tyranny.

“It was very difficult for my parents to leave everything behind,” explained Eskharia. “My parents wanted us to have a better life and better opportunities, so we left.”

Once the Eskharia family reached Turkey, the Turkish government placed them in a refugee camp in Istanbul for more than three years.

Eskharia remembers his time in the refugee camp as difficult; his family treated horribly, with clean water scarce, very little liberty to go outside and living with nine to 10 people in rooms built for three.

In 1993, the Eskharias applied for and received a green card from the United States. The family moved to California and started a new life as so many immigrants have done before them.

Even though the time in Turkey was hard for the Eskharia family, it made coming to the United States and enjoying the freedom afforded to Americans well worth it.

To repay the country who took he and his family in, Eskharia made a decision few American citizens and even fewer immigrants make – to join the United States Marine Corps.

“He’s (Eskharia) put in a lot of hard work to get into the Marine Corps and to get his naturalization,” said Eskharia’s brother-in-law, Sgt. Wendle F. Anderson, special intelligence systems administrator, MWSS-373, 3rd MAW (Fwd). “He feels that since America took him and his family in, he owes America a debt of gratitude and that’s why he joined the Marine Corps.”

While in the Marine Corps, Eskharia used his newfound brotherhood as a support system while applying for citizenship.

“It is a great feeling knowing you have the backup and support of the Marine Corps,” said Eskharia. “They are always there for help.”

Through deploying with the Marine Corps, Eskharia found himself back in the country of his birth.

“It feels good knowing that I can contribute to Iraq,” said Eskharia. “I do speak Arabic, not fluently, but I can still understand what people say and if Iraqis have a question, I can help them out and try to explain what is going on.”

Though a lot has changed in the last 15 years, being in Iraq has brought back some childhood memories.

Currently stationed at al-Taqaddum, Eskharia remembers Lake Habbaniyah where he, his father and two brothers used to fish and swim.

“We drove by Lake Habbaniyah the other day and I was like, ‘Huh, I remember this lake,’” said Eskharia. “I remember the hills around there, but there is a lot of barbed wire and fences now that weren’t there before. It’s a lot different now.”

Conquering one of his life goals, Eskharia stays focused on his future. Speaking Aramaic, and with his knowledge of Arabic, Eskharia would like to go to military linguist school in Monterey, Calif., to hone his Arabic language skills and become a linguist for the Marine Corps.

“I feel he makes a great Marine; he’s a good person, a good father, a good husband and a good brother,” said Anderson, a Buffalo, Mo., native. “I think this is well deserved.”

“In my heart, this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” explained Eskharia. “I’ve wanted to be a U.S. citizen ever since we came to the states from Baghdad. It’s very important to me because it’s an accomplishment and an achievement in my life.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tactical Bulk Delivery Fuel System

Video of HMH-361 "Flying Tigers" resupplying aircraft using an onboard fuel system.

HMLA-167 40th anniversary

Lt. Col Watkins (HMLA-167 CO) talks about the history of MHLA-167 on their 40th anniversary.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Full service gas, Marine Corps way

Cpl. Scott McAdam

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (April 5, 2008) -- Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), refueled elements of Regimental Combat Team 5 and Taskforce Debabah in the al-Anbar Province April 5.

In a short period of time, two CH-53E Super Stallions transferred approximately 32,000 gallons of fuel to ground troops in the field. The mission allowed the ground combat element to remain on patrol rather than return to base.

According to Sgt. Uber Saucedo, M1A1 tank commander, Delta Company, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, rather than traveling to a forward operating base to replenish fuel stores, receiving fuel in the field saved the Marines and soldiers more than a half-day’s worth of travel.
Delivering the fuel is one of the many ways the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing maximizes the U.S. military’s effectiveness in Iraq.

“This is part of our mission, delivering cargo, personnel and supplies wherever they need to go; whether it’s supplies on the frontlines or delivering fuel in the middle of nowhere,” said Capt. John Ballenger, CH-53E pilot, HMH-361. “It’s bringing assets to the troops; their mission is that important.”

“The (ground combat element) is out there searching for insurgents and patrolling in order to keep not only the forward operating bases safe, but the outlaying countryside too,” added Ballenger, a Tulsa, Okla., native.

Seeing everyone helping each other out for a common purpose and goal makes these missions really worth it, added Ballenger.

Throughout the day, the Flying Tigers performed two separate fuel resupplies, while transporting working dog teams and explosive ordnance disposal Marines to the combat troops.
Staff Sgt. Perry Miller, CH-53E crew chief, HMH-361, feels a sense of accomplishment and pride every time he supports ground forces.

“My brother is a sergeant in the infantry at Camp Pendleton, and I hear stories about what they go through, so it feels good to do this,” said Perry, a Chinook, Mont., native.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Iraqi contractor to build flight line chapel aboard al Asad

Sgt. Lukas Atwell

AL ASAD, Iraq, (April 2, 2008) – A ground-breaking ceremony held today marked the beginning of construction for a new chapel on the south side of the base.

The $280,000 contract, part of the ‘Iraqi First’ program, marked the first time an Iraqi construction company has performed work aboard al Asad since the war began. The program started last year and has contracted dozens of projects aboard U.S. installations throughout Iraq.
“The U.S. government is reaching out and trying to help the Iraqi companies and people find more work and stimulate their economy,” said Navy Cmdr. Roland Mina, the public works officer for al Asad.

The program has provided work for many Iraqi craftsmen across the country and has a far-reaching impact on the communities surrounding the bases.

“The program allows me to help my people,” said Ali Faris, the owner of al Folatheya, the company contracted to build the chapel. “I have fulfilled 12 contracts on American bases and the work provides money for my workers and their families and also to the markets where I buy my material and machinery.”

The concept of building a chapel on the south side of base began as a request from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Sadlo, the former operations officer of al Asad.

“The request couldn’t be filled while 2nd MAW was here, but the Base Command Group made sure it wasn’t forgotten as they changed places with 3rd MAW,” Sadlo explained. “The BCG took on a lot of responsibility in order to help the two wings focus on their turnover.”

The turnover was the first of many hurdles to overcome before construction could begin.

“We were in uncharted water when this started,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Leininger, a contractor accountability assistant for the BCG. “Basically, we had to figure out how we were going to get all of these Iraqis and their equipment on base. In the end, we coordinated with the provost marshal’s office and developed a plan for moving the material and getting the appropriate security for the workers and the construction site.”

The provost marshal’s office performed background checks, issued badges to the workers and will inspect all equipment and material coming aboard the base, according to Dallas native Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Paul Pritchard, the anti-terrorism force protection officer for Marine Wing Support Group 37.

The combined efforts of the personnel who made the construction possible will benefit the morale of the flight line personnel, said Navy Lt. Frank Riley, a chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 16.

“Right now, we have a very small chapel for the flight line service members and some have to travel across base for their services,” explained Riley, an Orange, Calif. native. “The new chapel will really help them out.”

With the construction underway, the chapel will not only be a welcome improvement for the service members, but also strengthens the bond between the air base and the surrounding community outside the gates.

“As the owner of an Iraqi construction business, I look forward to building a reputation for quality work,” Faris added. “So that the U.S. will have greater trust in Iraqi companies and will do more business with them in the future.”

A tradition of excellence: Warriors celebrate four decades of success

Cpl. Scott McAdam

AL ASAD, Iraq (April 1, 2008) – Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing celebrated its 40th anniversary here April 1.

The Warriors, originally Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 167, were founded aboard Marble Mountain Air Facility in the Republic of Vietnam on April 1, 1968, under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 16.

This ceremony is unique because we are celebrating our 40th anniversary in a combat zone under the command of MAG-16 once again, explained Capt. Somer A. Chambley, UH-1N Huey pilot, HMLA-167.

Though the war today is much different than the war 40 years ago, the squadron’s mission remains the same – to support coalition forces.

“Our mission is to provide offensive air support, utility helicopter support, armed escort and airborne supporting arms coordination during naval expeditionary operations or joint and combined operations,” said Chambley.

“Often times the squadron would provide several of these same missions as part of the same operation,” she added. “Our squadron patch, which closely resembles our original patch, has symbolism that represents all these varied missions.”

As with any other element of the Marine Corps, every mission the Warriors accomplish supports Marine infantrymen on the ground.

“There is no doubt that the men and women on the ground are carrying the heavy load of this conflict,” Chambley said. “They are taking the fight to the enemy.”

Throughout their history, the Warriors have accomplished many firsts and participated in numerous significant operations around the globe.

During the squadron’s deployment to Vietnam, Lt. Col. T.F. Miller, then commanding officer of HML-167, dropped the first helicopter bomb using the Helicopter Trap Weapon. In May of 1971, HML-167 was the last operating helicopter squadron in Vietnam, completing over 60,000 combat flight hours during the war.

“Utility helicopter support was our bread and butter during Vietnam –fulfilling a wide range of missions in support of friendly forces,” said Chambley.

After returning from Vietnam, the squadron received the Marine Corps’ first UH-1N Huey, becoming the initial UH-1N squadron for the Marine Corps. With the new airframe, HML-167 also acquired the responsibilities as the training squadron and model manager for the UH-1N.

Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 167 received its first AH-1T Cobra in January 1984 and became the first light/attack squadron on April 1, 1986.

Though the squadron switched designation, their mission didn’t change; it only expanded with the addition of the AH-1 and improved technology.

“Today, we still do those same missions, but we also provide an anti-armor capability and forward air controller capability,” added Chambley.

In 1989, the squadron added three AH-1W Super Cobras to their already deadly arsenal.

One year later, HMLA-167 supported the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit with the evacuation of more than 3,000 American citizens and foreign nationals from Monrovia, Liberia, the largest non-combatant evacuation since Saigon in 1975.

Other large operations HMLA-167 took part in include: Operation Urgent Fury, Beirut, and Desert Storm, in addition to several Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) and Marine Air Ground Task Force deployments.
In 2004, the Warriors deployed to Al Asad Air Base as a full squadron and are currently on their fourth deployment in support of OIF.

Through the last four decades, the Marines with HMLA-167 have demonstrated success and look forward to future accomplishments.

“I could not be more proud of this squadron and of our history,” said Lt. Col. Michael E. Watkins, commanding officer, HMLA-167. “I believe the high-caliber of people we have in the squadron are the right ones to carry on our fine history and traditions.”

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Angel in utilities

Lance Cpl Michael Stevens

AL ASAD, Iraq (April 1, 2008) – She sits at her desk smiling, awed someone has chosen to introduce her compassion to the rest of the world.
With kindness in her eyes, she explains a motivational story; a motto she lives by.

“There was a boy walking along the seashore, tossing stranded starfish into the ocean. A man walks up and tells him, ‘there are thousands of stranded starfish out here; you can’t possibly make a difference.’ The boy reaches down and tosses another one back into the sea and says, ‘I made a difference to that one.’”

“I help people out of genuine love and consideration,” she says.

For the Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, assigned to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), she is a naval doctor who provides health services when they’re ill or injured. To the children living in the small Iraqi villages surrounding Al Asad Air Base, she is a lifesaver and a friend.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Christina M. Williams, the medical officer for MWSS-274, spends her days working squadron sick-call and supervising the corpsmen who accompany Marines on mounted security patrols to the neighboring villages.

As a result of the patrols, Williams, a Tulsa, Okla., native, discovered an increasing need for healthcare, medication and fresh water to the area.

“There are just not enough medical personnel and resources to go around,” said Williams. “Iraq is trying and we want to assist in their efforts.”

Based on the current situation of the area, Williams and other medical personnel have developed future plans to provide a larger scheme of medical attention for the local Iraqis.

Many of the health issues could be addressed by providing a clean water source, added Williams.

“Many people drink from the wadi, oasis or contaminated wells, leading to gastrointestinal, skin and other diseases,” said Williams. “There is a project underway to construct a well for them.”

Helping to aid struggling communities has been a consistent theme in Williams’ life. She played an integral part in outreach missions in Guyana, South America, Haiti and Kenya before joining the Navy.

The assistance provided in these areas included building churches and clinics that supported medical, dental and immunization programs, as well as initiating water purification systems to allow for clean water consumption.

“She is a caring person,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Deloy A. Shaw, an independent duty corpsmen with MWSS-274, currently deployed with Williams for the second time. “She’s very thorough and relentless when it comes to medicine. She goes above and beyond her call of duty to ensure not only the Marines are taken care of, but also their families when we’re in the rear.”

Williams attributes her motivation to seeing a need and striving to meet that need.

“When we help these children attain good health, we’re building a stronger community and helping them become healthier adults,” said Williams. “It will foster a good relationship between them and the U.S. Military for the future.”