AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, returned to the dust-blown streets and runways of Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 5, replacing MAG-26 as the primary facilitator of aviation support in their area of responsibility.
Nearly one year had passed since MAG-26, 2nd MAW, took the reigns from their West Coast counterpart MAG-16. During those months, the East Coast group supported Army, Navy and Marine aviation squadrons performing hundreds of various missions in support of Multinational and Iraqi ground forces.
MAG-16 will act as the higher headquarters and serve as a foundation for the operations of more than a dozen aviation, aviation support and medical support units conducting missions from forward operating bases across Western Iraq.
"The Marines, sailors and soldiers of MAG-16 are anxious, they are well trained and they are ready. These are the best young men and women America has to offer and it is a privilege and honor to stand among them," said Col. Guy M. Close, commanding officer, MAG-16. "We are going to support our ground forces and aid in the transition to Iraqi security forces by providing multiple aviation missions to include casualty evacuation, surveillance and movement of personnel and supplies."
"We have been set up for success by the excellent turnover from MAG-26. They should be proud of the accomplishments and improvements they've made, and we hope to build upon their work," said the Wellsboro, Pa., native.
Members of MAG-16 continued the theme of their commanding officer's remarks when speaking about the exemplary job done by their predecessors.
"This is my first tour out here, and the impression I had was that we had to bring 8,000 things to be ready, but it was a lot better than I expected," said Sgt. Jonathan Soler, intelligence chief, MAG-16. "MAG-26 had everything set; ready to go in my section."
Soler and other key personnel with MAG-16 arrived weeks prior to the transfer of authority. Representatives from every section in the group worked alongside their counterparts from MAG-26, prepping for when the workload of daily operations of the MAG would be theirs to carry.
"They went over the day-to-day responsibilities, giving me a heads up on where things were heading," said Soler, a Bridgeport, Conn., native. "They let us know the details necessary to make it an efficient transition."
Despite what he knows will be stressful months ahead, Soler is optimistic about the future.
"We're going to be busy supporting the Marines as best as possible, here at the MAG, at the squadrons and in the rear," said Soler. "This deployment is a great opportunity to develop Marines and to see the products we (MAG-16 intelligence section) prepare save lives."
With the Marines, sailors and soldiers under the MAG-16 umbrella in place, members of MAG-26 expressed feelings of happiness and regret on their impending redeployment home.
"I feel real good, the turnover went great, but sad to leave some really good people. Hopefully, we'll be able to reunite back home," said Staff Sgt. Don A. Henson, fiscal chief, MAG-26 and Kilmichael, Miss., native. "I'm looking forward to seeing MAG-16 fiscal do good things, and help the local economy through contracting."