Saturday, June 2, 2007
it's 12:40am and I am in a single line of Marines standing in the darkness, it's been a long hot day with temps again in the 105+ area. I am hot and tired already but my legs keep moving me forward with my gear, helmet, flack jacket and pack. I gaze out at the two big CH-53 Stallions that sit on the ramp with rotors turning, and with a wave of a hand and a flashlight moving in the darkness we all move forward towards the two big birds. Green light illuminates the cavernous inside of this beast and I grab my seat and throw my pack into the growing pile in the center of the Helo. I am leaving Fallujah and headed to the north, the edge of the empire and the sprawling Marine Air base of Al Asad.
A stop along the way to drop off and pick up passengers and cargo and at 03:10am we touch down at the airfield in Al Asad. I am greeted by my POC a F/A-18 pilot call sign "Troll" who is now working on the Wing Staff. By 04:00am I am in a large room that seems unused for centuries, dust and dirt are everywhere with mattress's stacked up along the wall along and empty boxes strewn about the floor. I see a bed with a mattress on it and pull out my poncho liner from my pack, this is as good as it will get this morning. At 07:30 I am up again and facing a new day in Iraq. last night in this space though as I will be billeted in a temp can for the week.
My trip to Al Asad was a collection effort to meet with senior leadership and conduct interviews on the aviation perspective of the on going battle here. I am fortunate to have a 2 hour meeting with the Commanding General, what a great opportunity to hear his thoughts and perspective. I also meet with his staff over the course of the week gathering a unique glimpse into the senior headquarters and their battle rhythm. By weeks end I have meet all the Commanding Officers, their Executive Officers and the Operations Officers of most of the Marine Aircraft Group . I also make key points of contact to follow-up with on future visits for a dig deeper down to the men and women actually flying the missions every day.
I continue to hear the same story from Fallujah and now to Al Asad "We Are Winning". The overall view of the Al Anbar province is considered a success right now, the wing has seen their mission change from dropping bombs (which they still do) to more security type of operations. Providing "eyes in the sky" and every Marines greatest comfort, Marine air available for close air support and casualty evacuation.
The times seem to be changing here but success will also be dependent on the Iraqi Government being able to continue to provide security for it's people. This is key for Iraq to grow and become independent and American forces to head home. A strong Iraqi police force and Army are required and this seems to be on an upward trend as well in the province. All of this is of course easier said than done but none the less you can not deny progress has been made and continues here in Al Anbar. The main focus of course is still the capital, The world is watching Baghdad and it's future will be the future of this country.
I have attached two pictures one is of the "Can" city I stayed in while at Al Asad the other is the 2nd Marine Air Wing (Forward) insignia. For those unfamiliar with a can it is basically an 8' x 12' cell, air conditioned in which 2 to 4 people can be housed. In Fallujah I am in a 2 man can, in this heat I am grateful for my little air conditioned space in which to sleep and re-energize myself.