Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I wonder will I ever get back to some kind of normal schedule, I glance at my watch it is 2:55am. I have just landed in Al Asad, I step out the back of the CH-46 and the early morning air hovering around 90 feels good and refreshing, I open my flack jacket to let the air hit me and cool down some.
With little thought given I move numbly grabbing my pack and following the line of Marines in front of me, we move like a single trail of ants in the darkness to be manifested as "Arriving”. I step up to the manifest window to get my ID card, “CWO4 Sears?” I am asked by the corporal at the desk “Roger” my mouth replies but brain is still numb, he slides me an envelope, it is from the Executive Officer (XO) of Marine Air Group (MAG) 29, inside is the keys to a truck parked outside and a key to a temp can for the week….. Welcome to Al Asad.
I find the truck and hope I can find my can as it is now pushing 3:30am; I hope to get at least 3 hours of sleep before I start the day. My good luck continues, I find my way to the designated can city with little problem. Although my luck runs out as the walk from the truck to the can which is about 15 min away. Not such a big deal unless you have been awake for 20 hours, and now walking in a 50lb flack jacket and carrying my gear in the darkness not knowing where you are going, But I find my way.
I open the door of the can and the coolness of the air conditioned room hits me, as I am sweating hard again after the trek from the vehicle. I look around and see a mattress on a bed frame, I pull out my trusty poncho liner and get out of my flight suit. I will roll up my flight suit as it will be my pillow for the week, now for a couple hours of sleep.
I have come to Al Asad to cover four Marine squadrons, two helicopter and two fixed wing. I start the day with a courtesy visit to the XO to thank him for the truck and temp can, also to let him know I made it here. We exchange a hand shake and my plans for the week and off I go.
My week starts off the Marines of VMAQ-1 an EA-6B (Prowler) squadron, I am getting excited as I make the turn and start to see the flight line come into view, I start to make out the Harriers, Prowlers, Herc’s and Hornets parked on the ramp, I also notice a squadron of Air Force Warthogs…starting to feel at home, and not so tired. The Marines of Q-1 take care of me and the day starts with interviews lined up until 5:00pm.
I end up visiting 3 more squadrons during my week, the Marines of HMLA-269 a Cobra gun ship squadron augmented by UH-1 “Hueys” is next, I spent the 4th of July with them another good day. I pause and think about what folks are doing back home as I gaze at the flight line at the end of the day and watch a Prowler roar down the runway and push skyward. After all these years I still get such a rush being around jets, I think sometimes it is in my blood. Standing on the flight line and gazing left to right I take it all in fighters, attack aircraft, transports, attack helicopters it’s all here. I have to smile a good way to spend the 4th I think.
But the day I have been looking forward to happened on the 5th, I was able to visit the sole F/A-18 squadron in Iraq the Marines of VMFA(AW)-121. for some readers reference I have been around F/A-18’s for 20+ years, As a young man I joined my first F/A-18 squadron back in 1989 and in my civilian job I have the good fortune to be working in the F/A-18 program office as a civil servant. To be around the Hornet again, share stories of people we know in common and talk the tech talk of the aircraft and its systems made me feel at home. Needless to say I enjoyed my time with my Hornet friends.
I finish the week with the “Ugly Angels” of HMH-362 a CH-53D squadron out of Hawaii, great group of Marines who had some excellent stories. Similar to what I reported on with HMM-262 in Al Taqaddum, the Ugly Angels are on their first deployment to Iraq, and the old Vietnam Vets from the Ugly Angels have adopted the squadron and groups have gone so far as adopt specific work centers and keep in touch with the Marines via email and send care packages. I find the whole story amazing, the old vets, passing the torch to the soon to be Iraq vets. A special piece I was told was a young Captain in the Squadron, he is the son of a Vietnam era ugly Angel pilot. As a child he grew up with the squadron pulling on his dad’s pants legs during squadron functions. Now he is a pilot in the same squadron, his father spoke to the squadron before deploying for combat. The same Marines that knew him as a boy now see it go full circle as he is now in combat with the same squadron they were and the story continues…
I work until I have no time left and I have to head out to catch the helo back, I missed dinner and I am looking at another long night. The Commanding Officer of HMH-362 opens the door to the room I am doing an interview in, he flashes me a 5 min sign, and I wrap up the interview. When I meet him back in his office to get my gear he hands me a couple of pieces of chicken wrapped in a napkin, “I know you missed chow interviewing my Marines, you can eat this waiting for the flight” I grab my flack jacket and gear and throw it in the back of the truck, “No Worries I’ll get the truck back to MAG-29 for you he tells me” I thank him, hand over the keys and 10 Min later I grab my gear and start the process of getting back to Fallujah.
Sitting in the waiting area for my flight eating cold chicken and drinking warm water, I can not help but smile. A good week in Iraq….I’ll take that anytime.
Two pictures for this post the first is of my friends in VMFA(AW)-121 showing a unique paint scheme on one of their aircraft, to show the bond between the Marine Air and Ground team. The 2d Marine Division is painted on the Spine of the Hornet. On the tail is painted the regiments of the 2D MARDIV, of note the Army’s 1st Brigade 3rd Infantry is on their as well, as the squadron provides close air support for them as well. To further this unique Air Ground team, the commanding General for II Marine Expeditionary Force is listed as the Pilot, with the Commanding General for Aviation here in Iraq listed as the back seater.
The second a group of Marines from the “Ugly Angels” works on a CH-53D, the unsung heroes of Marine Aviation these Marines work 24 hours a day in two 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. For many they have not had a day off in several months. This is what is required to keep aircraft in the air and on call 24/7 in support of Marines on the ground in combat. Not a glamorous or sexy job but a critical one.