Saturday, August 30, 2008

Laying the ‘ground’ work at Camp Mejid: 3rd MAW (Fwd.) Marines lead basic electrical skills course for Iraqi Army

CAMP MEJID, Iraq - Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 wrapped up a basic electrical skills training course for Iraqi Army engineers at Camp Mejid Aug. 18.

The 14-day course, taught by the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) support squadron, covered the fundamentals of interior wiring and grounding techniques.

Through the course, the Marines provided the Iraqi soldiers with basic electrical skills that will help the soldiers improve the safety and function of IA facilities.

The training provided essential knowledge needed to safely ground electrical power sources, how to properly determine what type of electrical load is needed and how to distribute power evenly, explained Staff Sgt. Shane Munoz, the lead instructor of the class.

The knowledge gained through the class is important, according to Munoz, as it empowers the Iraqi soldiers with the ability to fix high-risk situations caused by poorly wired electrical systems.

“It was good to see the interaction with the Iraqi Army and see they were interested in what was being taught,” said Munoz. “It was an enlightening experience.”

When the classes ended, the Iraqi engineers moved quickly to begin their first projects – rewiring a building and restoring a generator to full capabilities.

Under the supervision of the Marines, the Iraqis successfully repaired the generator and upgraded the building, resulting in a significantly improved working environment.

“These guys are great,” said Lance Cpl. Amanda Gambill, a generator mechanic. “They were always open to my suggestions in order to learn. Furthermore, they were always willing to jump in there and do it themselves.”

Marine electricians participate in three months of vigorous studies and hands-on training before heading to the operating forces. Compressing those three months of training into a fourteen-day course with the added challenge of a language barrier tested the mettle of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Hart and the Marines of MWSS-172’s utilities section.

As the utilities officer, Hart pulled key concepts for grounding and wiring from the three-month curriculum. He worked with Munoz to ensure the course would provide the Iraqi soldiers with the basic skills required to allow them to immediately improve the safety of their work space. The skills learned also have applicability in the Iraqi civilian job market.

“The training was excellent. My soldiers learned a lot about electricity that they didn’t know before,” said 2nd Lt. Fawzi Ahmed, commander, Support Platoon Commander, Engineer Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

“They had tools but didn’t know how to use them. They had no clue about phases of electricity. In the future they will be able to solve problems and fix electricity for the division,” he added, referring to the Iraqi Army’s 7th Infantry Division which his platoon supports.

Colonel Daniel Elzie, commanding officer, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, described the training as “very important” and noted that the training provided a unique opportunity to further enhance the relationship between the Marine Corps and the Iraqis.

After the classes ended and electrical repairs were completed, it was all smiles and handshakes between the Marines and Iraqi soldiers, but Hart noted that this wasn’t the last time the squadron would provide electrical training to the Iraqis. Additional classes are scheduled throughout the remainder of the squadron’s deployment.

“Our end goal with this training is to ensure the Iraqis have a solid foundation of electrical skills so that they can maintain and grow their facilities,” said Hart. “Being able to manage their logistical infrastructure is a huge step toward independence for them. Electricity is a key element of this infrastructure.”

Friday, August 29, 2008

HMLA-167, 1st ANGLICO light up desert during live-fire exercise

AL ASAD, Iraq – Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) conducted training with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Aug. 6 to enhance the squadron’s ability to work with ground forces.
Marine light attack helicopter squadrons primarily provide close air support for units on the ground as ANGLICO acts as a liaison between ground units and incoming aircraft used for close air support.

The live-fire training exercise provided both components of the Marine Air Ground Task Force an opportunity to practice offensive air support, explained Capt. Caleb Nimmo, a pilot with the squadron.

“The training keeps everyone up to speed and hashes out any problems we may have to endure when lives are on the ground,” said Nimmo. “This ensures we are proficient.”
The two aircraft, a UH-1 Huey and AH-1 Cobra, flew patterns around targets, awaiting target coordinates from ANGLICO. When the air support was requested, the two aircraft flew in with machine guns and rockets effectively destroying the training targets.

AL ASAD, Iraq – An AH-1 Cobra streaks through the sky above Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Aug. 6. Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 conducted a combined exercise with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company to enhance their close air support skills. Throughout the flight the Cobra flew in formation with a UH-1 Huey to conduct offensive air support training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ASAD, Iraq – Cpl. Casey Feasby, a crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 conducts a reload of the M-240G medium machine gun aboard a UH-1 Huey Aug. 6. The crew of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) squadron conducted training with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company to keep the Marines up to speed with close air support skills. During the training, Feasby fired more than 500 rounds at various ground training targets. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ASAD, Iraq – The M-240G medium machine gun aboard the UH-1 Huey is sighted in by aircrew from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 Aug. 6 while conducting training with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. The training enhanced the air and ground skills needed to provide close air support. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ASAD, Iraq - An AH-1 Cobra streaks through the sky above Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Aug. 6. The Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 conducted a combined exercise with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company to enhance their close air support skills. During the training, the aircraft from the squadron deployed multiple types of weapons with the aircraft such as the M240G machine gun and rockets. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

AL ASAD, Iraq – Prior to take off Aug. 6, Cpl. Casey Feasby, a crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 monitors the runway. The squadron participated in training with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company to enhance the skills needed to provide close air support during combat operations. During the training, Feasby manned the M-240G medium machine gun. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. George J. Papastrat) (Released)

Yuma, Ariz., native takes charge as convoy commander

AL-JAZIRAH DESERT, Iraq — A Yuma, Ariz., native led a five-day convoy of more than 50 vehicles and 100 Marines from the gates of Al Asad Air Base across the sands of al-Jazirah desert in Iraq to dismantle an expedient repair and replenishment point.

Sgt. Carlos Canez, a motor transport operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), took charge of the mission that began July 23, serving as the convoy commander, a billet normally held by a staff noncommissioned officer or commissioned officer.

During the mission, Canez brought his Marines to repair and replenishment point San Francisco, a site established several weeks prior to afford units operating in the region a location to refuel their vehicles and aircraft. The replenishment point also gave units a place for personnel to take a break and refresh before heading back into Iraq’s unforgiving desert.

“RRPs are designed to go up and down quickly because they are expeditionary – expedient fueling and repair sites for units supporting missions away from a base,” Capt. Chris Eyre, the detachment commander for RRP San Francisco.

For six days, Canez managed the Marines while they worked to load generators, food, water and other supplies onto the vehicles, effectively dismantling the refuel point.
When the Marines had everything packed and were ready to roll, Canez led the return convoy back to the air base, wrapping up his sixth mission as a convoy commander during this deployment.

By taking command of convoys and accomplishing the mission, Canez proved himself as a leader with abilities beyond his rank, according to Staff Sgt. Herbert Ochoa, the motor transport staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge and Canez’s supervisor. It’s because of this leadership that Ochoa selected Canez for the challenging yet rewarding duty of leading convoys in Iraq.

Canez’s dream of leading Marines began at the age of 14 when the Mexican-born Marine moved to the United States and began to see commercials on TV for the Marine Corps.
As a child he saw Marines in various movies, TV shows and commercials and it was then he decided his destiny — to become a Marine. It’s a decision he has never questioned or regretted.

“I love what I am doing,” explained Canez, serving his 3rd deployment to. “I just get that feeling of satisfaction from doing my job.”

Shortly after his unit returns to Okinawa, Canez will head to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., where he will attend drill instructor school.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

EOD, Engineers level city block

AT-TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 30, 2008) – When Marines leave the wire carrying nearly a ton of C-4, the result is sure to be explosive.

Explosive ordnance disposal technicians, engineers and heavy equipment Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), leveled the equivalent of an entire city block here July 30.

The aptly named, long deserted “Pancake Village,” dubbed so due to the high amount of demolition the village saw during previous engagements, had become a jump-off point for insurgent activity, as well as an eyesore to local Iraqis. Graffiti, uncertain structural integrity and strategic location made the town a growing danger to Iraqis and Coalition forces; so, the Marine Corps turned it into dust.

“We have 247 120 mm rounds, 80 (Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided) missiles, and 1,288 blocks of C-4,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ralph G. Morlang, officer in charge, EOD, MWSS-374. Morlang said the ammunition they used to flatten Pancake Village was H-ammo, or unserviceable rounds. The engineers and HE operators appreciated the help afforded from the old ordnance.

“We couldn’t safely level the buildings with vehicles,” said Sgt. Benjamin T. Miller, 26, New Plymouth, Ind., HE operator, MWSS-374. Miller said that maneuvering a bulldozer around the buildings would put the operator in an unsafe position.

The operation was too big and too dangerous for HE operators and engineers alone, so EOD answered the call.

“(This mission) is good for operational security,” said Sgt. Gary T. Jackson, EOD technician, 25, McAlester, Ok. “Now, we won’t have to worry about people living out here and planting (improvised explosive devices) or setting up an ambush on one of the main roads.”

Despite the work it took to wire up a city block’s worth of C-4, EOD seemed happy to participate.

“Anytime the engineers need help with a project,” Jackson said, “EOD is more than willing to grab the pack straps and help them charge into the fight.”

MWCG-38 Marines conduct force protection training with Army unit

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (July 24, 2008) - Marines from Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), participated in a force protection and anti-terrorism exercise here July 24 with the soldiers of the Army’s 507th Corps Support Group from Fort Bragg, N.C.

The Marines and soldiers rehearsed establishing fields of fire, setting up perimeter defenses and manning firing points within a secured area. The training afforded the 507th and the Marines the opportunity to practice protocols for identifying suspicious activities and securing suspect vehicles and individuals.

“This is good training for the Marines in learning the protocols for identifying and securing a suspicious vehicle,” said Staff Sgt. Sara McTeigue, the intelligence officer and force protection/anti-terrorism officer with MACG-38. “With the Marines in a deployed environment, it’s good for them to refresh the skills taught to them from Marine Combat Training.”

The sergeant of the guard continually relayed information to the other Marines participating in the exercise.

“The Marines performed very well during the exercise,” said Sgt. Angel Santoyo, sergeant of the guard for MACG-38. “The idea of the training is to keep Marines up to speed on what could happen while deployed and ensure they know what to do if a suspicious vehicle situation were to ever come up.”

The exercise isn’t the first time the Marines have worked with 507th CSG, according to Army Capt. Mary Rummery, the safety officer with the unit. The Marines have previously assisted in improvised explosive device exercises and medical evacuation training, added Rummery.

“We have learned a lot from working with the Marines,” said Rummery. And both units look forward to future joint training exercises.

“Red Lions” on prowl in OIF; K-BAY squadron arrives at Al Asad

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (July 26, 2008) – Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), also known as the “Red Lions,” roared into Al Asad Air Base in July.

The squadron of more than 180 Marines and sailors from Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, will provide assault support and transportation of troops, supplies and equipment with their CH-53D Sea Stallions, according to Red Lions commanding officer, Lt. Col. Hugh V. Tillman.

The squadron received their aircraft after HMH-463 completed a successful Western Pacific deployment, explained Tillman.

“The Marines from 463 did an excellent job of giving us ready-to-fly aircraft,” said Tillman. “Our Marines here work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure the aircraft are mission ready.”

The CH-53D, which made its first flight in 1964, was adopted by the Marine Corps in 1966 to satisfy the need for a heavy-lift helicopter, according to Tillman. The aircraft performed this duty until the introduction of the CH-53E Super Stallion in 1981. With the introduction of the CH-53E, the Sea Stallion transitioned to supporting medium-lift operations along with the CH-46E Sea Knight.

The CH-53D took on the role of medium lift helicopter because the CH-53E Super Stallion could haul up to 10,000 pounds more then the Sea Stallion, according to Capt. Peter Stachowicz, a pilot with HMH-363.

“The aircraft still brings a lot to the fight,” said Tillman. “The helicopter can support almost any mission that’s required. From aerial scouting to raids, this aircraft can do it all.”

Scheduled for replacement by the MV-22 Osprey, the Sea Stallion has proven to be a reliable asset during operations in the blistering cold of South Korea through the sweltering heat of Iraq.

Linden native fills essential security role in Iraq

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (July 22, 2008) - One Linden, Ala., native plays a significant role in ensuring the safety of personnel as they oversee transition projects here.

Sgt. Joshua Aldridge, a squad leader with a quick reaction force from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) recently escorted representatives of the Coalition Army Advisory Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, during their visit to Hawran, Iraq.

While the group toured the future weapons and leadership training site of the 7th Iraqi Army Division, a squad of Marines, led by Aldridge, provided security.

Quick reaction forces respond to situations that require immediate attention such as search and seizure of personnel, VIP escorts and detainee pickup.

“The best part of my job is the interaction I get to have with my Marines and with the locals where I am deployed.” said Aldridge, who strives to have a positive impact on the Marine he serves with and supervises. “My job is to set the pace for the team leaders within the squad.”

After Aldridge graduated from Marengo Academy in 1998, he joined the Marine Corps. Since joining, he has participated in more than seven deployments and numerous humanitarian operations through out the world.

“Every deployment has been a different experience,” said Aldridge. “I have helped build schools, hospitals, parks and houses for many towns and villages around the world. I get a great sense of pride when I am able to provide somebody with something they wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for me and the Marines I’ve served with.”

During his time in the Corps, Aldridge has continued his college education and hopes to one day work as a chemist for the Centers for Disease Control at the end of his Marine Corps career.

Aldridge will return to the U.S in September when his unit wraps up its current deployment to Iraq.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

‘Iraqi First’: Iraqi contractor to build flight line chapel aboard al-Asad

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 here.

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, a 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 Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Paul Pritchard, anti-terrorism force protection officer, Marine Wing Support Group 37, and native of Dallas.

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.”

Backpacks full of hope: 3rd MAW (Fwd) opens Iraqi and American Friendship Project Logistics Center

AL-ASAD, Iraq (May 27, 2008) – Over 1,000 Iraqi children may soon have school supplies thanks to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) with the launch of the Human Unity Begins project and the grand opening of a logistics center at Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron here May 19.

The Iraqi and American Friendship Project Logistics Center will serve as the supply warehouse for HUB, a humanitarian mission which provides backpacks and school supplies to children in need.

The HUB program, started by the 3rd MAW (Fwd.) chaplains, draws inspiration from Operation Backpack, an annual back-to-school program organized by Volunteers of America to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in need, according to Navy Lt. Frank Riley, a chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 16.

“We use the acronym HUB, which is also the Arabic word for love,” said Petty Officer First Class Lori Ihli, a religious programs specialist with MAG-16. “Through this program, we will be able to provide basic school supplies to Iraqi children. We will use the friendship center as an assembly line for the project.”

With the help of MAG-16 and various religious congregations in the U.S., the chaplains have collected enough supplies for 1,000 backpacks, which will be packed full of school supplies, such as paper, pencils and safety scissors, by volunteers from various commands aboard Al Asad Air Base.

“Our goal is to create a program that is sustainable and can be carried on for a long time,” said Riley, an Orange Calif. native. “We’re starting small, with the friendship center, in order to see what kind of need there is for school supplies in the local area. From there, we may open this project up to more sponsors and expand our efforts.”

Once the supplies are packed and ready for distribution, the organizers will pass the backpacks on to the local schools and to the Iraqi Police, who will then deliver them to the children.

“The idea is to help the people of Iraq strengthen their faith in their schools and their police,” Riley added. “The project is about empowering the children and the community as a whole.”

The initiative is also a chance for those Marines who may spend their deployment working on base, to make a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people, Riley said.

“The whole experience of being involved with the opening of the friendship center has been motivating and inspirational for me,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Wynn, a HUB volunteer and supply clerk from MALS-16. “It feels great to be a part of something that will benefit so many people and it’s nice to really get this project rolling.”

The HUB volunteers hope to have the first 1,000 backpacks ready for distribution by the end of this summer.

Silver Eagles take MCMAP to the flight line

AL ASAD, Iraq (March 26, 2008) – Whether it be the dry midday heat, the unrelenting sandstorms or the nonstop maintenance schedule of a deployed squadron, nothing stops Marines from sharpening their combat skills.

Gunnery Sgt. Stephen Lutz, the squadron gunnery sergeant of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, the Silver Eagles, has taken it upon himself to train approximately 20 students of various belt levels in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

The students come from different workspaces within VMFA-115, as well as Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4, the Sea Hawks, and range from basic tan belt to the more experienced green belt.

“I started the classes to help the Marines push themselves further toward their goals in the MCMAP program,” Lutz, a black belt instructor, explained. “I opened the classes up for the other squadrons on the south side of base because I wanted to help their Marines as well. It doesn’t matter to me where a Marine comes from as long as they are serious about training, I will teach them.”
Assisting Lutz is Gunnery Sgt. John Dalton, the Powerline division chief of VMFA-115. Dalton is a black belt and has been involved in MCMAP for more than six years.

“It is the responsibility of everyone, especially black belts, to help out whenever MCMAP classes are given,” Dalton explained.

Lutz teaches the classes back-to-back from grey belt all the way to brown belt.

“I am training for my brown belt, but I try to go to all of the classes,” said Cpl. Raymond Bryant, a data networking specialist with the Silver Eagles. “It helps me prepare for the more challenging moves taught during the brown belt class.”

As the Marines progress through the techniques, they gain confidence in their ability, according to Lutz, an Elkader, Iowa native.

“We are learning some cool techniques,” said Sgt. Carlos Guitron, the Sea Hawks’ career retention specialist. “As we move through the classes, some of the techniques become very easy. I have noticed how quickly and without much effort, you can take your opponent to the ground.”

Though the training is tough and is normally stacked onto a long workday, it gives the Marines something to look forward to everyday besides taking a shower and going to sleep, Lutz said.

“This is what Marines do,” Dalton added. “We adapt to our environment and use it to our advantage while accomplishing our mission. Conducting MCMAP benefits the Marines by teaching them the disciplines of martial arts, instilling a sense of pride in accomplishing a new belt level and keeps them from sitting in their quarters getting homesick.”

No matter the clime or place, whether through close air support or lethal hand-to-hand combat skills, the Silver Eagles are training to be prepared for whatever comes their way.

Silver Eagles honor former CO during 65th anniversary

AL-ASAD, Iraq (July 3, 2007) – The Silver Eagles of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) celebrated their 65th anniversary here July 1.
The squadron was originally organized July 1, 1943 as Marine Fighter Squadron 115 in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Major Joseph Foss, an ace who held the World War II Marine Corps record for shooting down 26 enemy aircraft, took command 16 days later.

Foss, who had recently received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, made an impression on the pilots of the newly formed squadron, who quickly decided that VMF-115 would be known as “Joe’s Jokers.”

Joe’s Jokers joined the Pacific campaign in May 1944 where the squadron distinguished itself during the battle of Leyte Gulf and in the Sulu Archipelago, where they provided close air support, fighter cover and deep air strikes against enemy positions despite adverse weather conditions.

Having flown more than 18,000 flight hours in 5,856 sorties, the Marines of VMF-115 contributed to the success of the American campaign in the Philippines, according to Capt. Owen Smith, the VMFA-115 historical officer.

In celebration of their squadron’s heritage and 65th anniversary, The Marines of VMFA-115 painted one of their aircraft with the Joe’s Jokers insignia. The insignia also adorns the squadron members’ coveralls and flight suits.
Walt Disney studios created the original insignia, a stack of playing cards with a cartoon F4U-1 Corsair smoking a cigar on the top card, in the late 1940’s to represent the squadron’s balance of aerial combat prowess and high spirits, Smith explained.

“During this time of combat operations, it is only fitting that we paint a jet to represent our proud and distinguished history,” said Maj. Michael Juenger, VMFA-115’s executive officer. “I think the aircraft is something our squadron can be proud of and represents the Marines and sailors of VMFA-115 who served together here and have worked so hard to ensure their fellow warriors on the ground had air support overhead.”

The Joe’s Jokers emblem now resides on the tail end, while Foss’ name and Medal of Honor are printed beside the cockpit. The Marines added a South Carolina flag to the speed brake to represent the squadron’s current home, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

“We put a lot of thought into how we would be able to keep the originality of the old logo, while adding a little twist to represent the current squadron,” said Staff Sgt. Waldemar Velazquez, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of VMFA-115’s airframes division.

As the Joe’s Jokers jet took to the skies July 2 on its first combat mission since it was re-painted, it took part in the squadron’s historical deployment as the first single-seat forward air controller-airborne capable F/A-18 squadron deployed on Iraqi soil.

“The squadron honored its birthday as we have in every conflict we have fought in,” Juenger added. “That is by flying combat missions in support of the Coalition forces on the ground.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

Marines melt through problem; weld solution

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (July 25, 2008)- For two Marine welders with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), creative thinking had a significant, positive impact on security measures here and could continue to benefit both the Corps and the welders in the future.

Sergeant Jason Walsh and Cpl. John James, metal workers with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, put their heads together and modeled a bracket piece needed to mount security equipment on perimeter tower buildings aboard the air base.

The bracket solved a problem security forces ran into when they attempted to mount cameras, satellites and other security equipment on the rooftops of the towers. The tower tops were made of a thin metal which gave way when heavy equipment was mounted on it.

When approached with the problem, Walsh and James measured the rooftops, gathered data about the weight of the gear needing mounted, analyzed the information and chalked up a design on the welding shop floor.

The Marines had to take into consideration the positioning on the tower, strengths of the tower, how to brace the brackets along with many more factors, explained Walsh, a 23-year-old native of Pomona, N.Y.

In a day’s worth of brainstorming, they created a solution to the problem.

“I let my Marines think outside the box, I encourage them to use their own brains and not think that they can’t make it work,” said Gunnery Sgt. Fredrick Moyer, heavy equipment staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “They’ll make it work.”

With the walls of the towers made of steel, Walsh and James determined “A” and “T” shaped brackets which stretched across the roof would effectively distribute the weight of the gear and allow for mounting on the towers.

“These brackets are extremely important because if they didn’t have them, then they wouldn’t be able to put the radars and cameras on top of the towers which would extremely weaken base security,” said James.

Along with the ten brackets the welders have made so far, they also constructed stairs to facilitate access to the roofs for contractors who must mount and maintain the security equipment.

James’ experience with welding prior to joining the Corps lends to his excitement about his job as a Marine.

“We work with many kinds of metal from steel to aluminum,” said James. “We make repairs to anything made out of metal and we can fabricate almost anything out of metal.”

Welding requires metal workers to be knowledgeable in the areas of geometry for cutting shapes and configuring lengths and angles. Also, different metals require different degrees of heat in order to weld to other metals and materials, explained Walsh, so welders must have an understanding of the chemistry involved with manipulating metal.

“I like being a welder because I get to work with my hands and make anything I want out of steel,” said James. “My imagination is my limit.”

While both of them enjoy their job, both knew in high school they wanted to join the military.

“I was set on joining the Marine Corps,” said James. “It’s a sense of honor and I wanted to make myself better.”

Walsh claims his promotion to sergeant as his greatest professional achievement thus far.

“I always aspired to be in the military,” said Walsh. “Having responsibility makes you strive to be a better person and take on new challenges.”

The Marines expect to return to Okinawa, Japan in October.

With the encouragement of the contractors and the squadron, the welders look forward to patenting their idea.

San Francisco goes retro; MWSS-172 completes retrograde mission at RRPv

REPAIR AND REPLENISHMENT POINT SAN FRANSISCO, Iraq (July 28, 2008)- Early in the morning before the moon settled and the sun rose above Al Asad Air Base, Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 began a convoy to the northern area of Iraq to start the retrograde process of a repair and replenishment point.

The squadron, belonging to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), traveled more than 100 miles through the sandy terrain, arriving at RRP San Francisco in the Al Jazirah desert of Iraq, July 23. For more than five days the Marines worked countless hours to load up vehicles, generators, food, water and other supplies and other gear, effectively dismantling the RRP they had built four weeks prior.

“RRPs are designed to go up and down quickly because they are expeditionary – expedient fueling and repair sites for units supporting missions away from a base,” Capt. Chris Eyre, the detachment commander for RRP San Francisco.

While in operation, the RRP facilitated logistical support for tank and aviation operations in support of Operation Defeat al-Qaeda in the North. The Marines dispensed more than 96,000 gallons of fuel and supported repair and logistical needs for more than ten tanks and numerous other vehicles.

Along with ground equipment, the squadron refueled aircraft flying missions in the area.

Traditionally, aviation support squadrons like MWSS-172 build and man forward arming and refueling points specifically designed to support aviation squadrons, according to Sgt. Maj. Roger E. Jenness, the sergeant major of Marine Wing Support Group 37, under which MWSS-172 falls.

The Okinawa-based squadron had the capability to support the helicopter pads and repair needs of aviation assets as well as the skills and the equipment to support the needs of the tanks and ground vehicles operating in the area, explained Eyre.

In addition to logistical support for the RRP, Marines from the squadron’s incident response platoon, supplemented by Marines from the squadron’s companies, provided security for the replenishment point day and night to ensure the safety of all those working within the area.

All around, “We were the right fit for the mission,” Eyre added.

Sergeant maintains network of ‘cups and string’

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (July 22, 2008)- Sergeant James Hainer has once or twice thought of his job as merely a complicated version of connecting cups with string.

The cups – several hundred PCs. The string – thousands of feet of network cables, power cords, and USB lines.

Currently deployed to al-Asad, Iraq, Hainer spends his days in the communications section of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) working with his fellow computer systems specialist to maintain connectivity among thousands of computer users. For personnel within the wing, loss of connectivity equals loss of precious work hours.
“Computers and network connectivity are essential to mission accomplishment,” said Chris Porter, the help desk lead administrator.

The 3rd MAW (Fwd.) communications section Marines and civilians manage all Marine computer helpdesks aboard al-Asad, acquire and install software applications and provide technical support.

“This office is at the highest echelon of help desks at the entire base,” said Porter. Hainer, a Kent, Wash. native with seven years of experience in his job field, describes the current mission as familiar, but riddled with issues unique to the combat environment.

“Working in theater has certain difficulties we have to overcome that are different from working in the states,” said Hainer.

Day-to-day, the 27-year-old completes connectivity checks on computer networks, logs trouble tickets and gets computers that have gone offline back on the net. On occasion, Hainer and his fellow techs ensure frustrated computer users don’t launch their PC out of the nearest window. When users go from red in the face to bringing cookies to the help desk, Hainer knows he has contributed to mission accomplishment and possibly prevented the untimely demise of a computer or two.

“Hainer displays outstanding communication skills,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Lynch, the data network chief and Hainer’s supervisor. “He is a very important piece of this puzzle that is constantly changing.”

Hainer’s communication skills and outgoing personality serve him well when dealing with frustrated computer users. These same traits will benefit him in his pursuit of becoming a teacher. Hainer credits his high school American History teacher, Mike Shepard, at Kentlake High School for inspiring him to become a teacher.

“He would teach long hours while still finding the time to help his son who had multiple sclerosis,” said Hainer of Shepard who still teaches at Kentlake.
While following in his father’s footsteps to the Marine Corps, he hasn’t lost site of his dream of teaching. He plans to attend college and earn his teaching degree when he leaves the Corps’ ranks.
Hainer will return to the U.S. in February of 2009.

Ceremony marks significant step toward independent operations for Iraqi Army 7th Infantry Division

CAMP MEJID, Iraq (July 24, 2008)- The Camp Mejid-based Location Command of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Infantry Division held a ribbon cutting ceremony July 24 to officially open the doors to new facilities here.

The ceremony consisted of speeches by unit commanders and an Iraqi Army salute, also known as the janoud creed. The official opening of the facilities represents a significant milestone in the process to establish an infrastructure from which the Location Command can provide logistical support.

“Four buildings on Camp Mejid have been completed. This is the first of many more buildings to be turned over to the IA,” said Staff Col. Esahel Hatem Abdel Haleem Elaannie. Civilian construction crews began construction on the facilites in November 2007. The project is slated for completion in the near future.

The most recently completed buildings house a medical facility and a gymnasium. IA commanders dedicated the new buildings to fallen Iraqi soldiers, Martyr BG Muthanna Fa’ep Abd Al Razzaq and Martyr Warrant Officer Abbas Fadel Abid.
The Location Command continues to evolve with increasing personnel to provide logistic, supply and maintenance support for the division. In addition to filling these support roles, the LC will oversee all base functions to include sanitation, electrical generation and distribution, food preparation, and base security. Medical staff assigned to the Location Command will operate the newly completed medical facility.

Colonel Khaled Noori, Camp Mejid Location Command commander, thanked the division and the Location Command for working so well together and so tirelessly to achieve this milestone. Other key note speakers in attendance echoed Noori’s sentiments.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be here representing the coalition,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Motsch, Location Military Advising Team senior advisor. “These buildings we dedicated today will enhance the logistic and medical support for the IA 7th Division and once the LC project is complete, it will help the overall sustainment capabilities for the 7th Division. I look forward to our continued partnership with the 7th Division to support Iraqi’s freedom.”

The opening of this facility represents an important step toward independent operations for the Camp Mejid Location Command and enhances the command’s ability to support the soldiers of the 7th Iraqi Army Infantry Division.

Comedians keep service members laughing in Al Asad

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (July 23, 2008)- Hundreds of service members joined together in the theater here as Scott Kennedy, Kenny Kane and Ron Morey, comedians from Los Angeles, took the stage July 23.

For more than two hours, the comedians kept the audience laughing as they poked fun at the challenges of long-distance relationships, working out at the gym and military customs.

“Believe it or not, we save lives,” said Kennedy, who has performed five times this year at bases in Iraq.

Kennedy sees these performances as beneficial to boosting morale and breaking the monotony of long deployments.

Service members who had seen Kennedy perform in Iraq before, approached him throughout the evening to thank him for the repeat visits by the comedians.
“I honestly miss not being here,” said Kennedy. “I’m pretty committed to all of the armed forces,” he said as he stuck out his arm lined with patch looking tattoos representing all branches of the U.S. military.

Following the show, each comedian took the time to personally meet, shake hands and take pictures with audience members.

“My friends and I attended the show and it was a blast,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Lambert, a career retention specialist with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). “It brings ‘home’ to us here and allows all of the branches of the military to get together in one spot and enjoy some laughs.”

MNSCT-I representatives visits future Iraqi training facility; signs of transition continue to show

AL ANBAR, Iraq (July 27, 2008) - Army Brig. Gen. Steve Salazar, deputy commanding general of Coalition Army Advisory Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq visited the future training site for the 7th Iraqi Army Division near Al Asad Air Base July 20.

A quick reaction force from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), provided security during the visit for Salazar and several other service members from MNSTC-I.

The facility, large enough to train more than 300 Iraqi troops, will feature 600 and 300-meter ranges with 200 individual firing points. The facility will provide Iraqi trainees the ability to train with crew-served weapons such as the M240G medium machine gun and .50 caliber machine guns. 100-meter ranges will serve as zeroing and small-arms ranges which will allow trainees to participate in numerous courses of fire.

“The whole idea is to develop the abilities of the Iraqis to train themselves. It starts with us helping to train them and developing a ‘train the trainer’ capability,” said Salazar. “We are at a point in time which the operations allow us to focus some energy into conducting training.”

The facility will have the ability to support three noncommissioned officers schools and a prior service course for those returning from the old Iraqi Army, according to Army Maj. Bennett Eckert.

The range is scheduled for completion some time in 2008.