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 Salem-news.com'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.


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

Salem-News.com'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