AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- In what has become a familiar routine, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, passed responsibility for casualty evacuation and general aviation support missions in Iraq Feb. 25 to HMM-268, MAG-16, 3rd MAW, ending another successful deployment to the newly democratic nation.
"I was amazed at how smoothly things had gone here considering the extra flights and maintenance required for the mission. We had no aircraft suffer a mechanical breakdown and saved over 400 lives," said Lt. Col. Robert M. Brassaw, commanding officer, HMM-161. "Not only did we save American lives, but also Iraqi, who are stepping up to the fight. The deployment has been rewarding in that regard. We accomplished a mission that was more than anticipated as our mission morphed into so much more."
"I set a very high benchmark for my Marines and I could not have asked for anything more than they performed," said the Cape Corral, Fla., native.
Brassaw's senior enlisted leader, Sgt. Maj. William F. Fitzgerald III, echoed his commanding officer's glowing remarks on the performance of the Greyhawks in a slightly different manner.
"I'm not sure who coined the phrase 'swing with the wing,' but from what I've seen and learned from each one of the Marines out here, that person does not have a clue," declared Fitzgerald. "There is certainly no swinging around here."
According to Brassaw, part of the transfer of authority had the Greyhawks making sure each department head passed guidance to their HMM-268 counterpart. This impartation of knowledge made sure the Red Dragons were better prepared than the Greyhawks were upon their arrival.
"The Greyhawks have been gracious hosts. Whether it is our pilots, aircrew or maintenance Marines, all have been treated well during the turnover," said Lt. Col. Patrick A. Gramuglia, commanding officer, HMM-268. "We have been here before, but there are new nuances to the base, the workspaces and missions that the Marines with HMM-161 have passed down to us during the turnover."
The great turnover was to be expected from the top Marine medium helicopter squadrons in 2004 and 2005. The two squadrons performed their first turnover of responsibility in August 2004 and had always had a good professional relationship, commented Fitzgerald, a Big Rapids, Mich., native.
"The experienced pilots with HMM-161 have been flying with our experienced pilots, showing them the routes, key land features and approach patterns," said Sgt. Maj. Donald C. Miller, HMM-268 sergeant major. "Also, the crew chiefs have been training up HMM-268 crew chiefs on the obstacles at the landing zones."
In addition to the pilots and crews, the squadrons' maintenance Marines picked up their toolboxes and wrenches side-by-side to keep the aging helicopters flying right.
"We have integrated each shop, and it's working out really well," said Cpl. Travis N. Ladegast, a flight line mechanic with HMM-268. "For the experienced Marines in the squadron, the ones that are old hands and have been out here before, performing aircraft maintenance in this environment is no big thing."
The time deployed to Iraq will be a good learning experience for the junior Marines with the Red Dragons, indicated Ladegast, a Rockford, Mich., native.
"We will teach them the by-the-book way to do things, but also the way to do things out here, to get the job done right and on time," stated Ladegast, a veteran of multiple deployments to Iraq. "They will learn a lot out here. There are fewer distractions than back home. No worrying about what to do at (4 p.m.)."
The experienced and junior Marines with HMM-268 know the mission ahead, and are hungry to get in the fight and give HMM-161 a break, explained Miller, a Lawrenceville, N.J., native.
"Now, we are more than ready. We have trained with the gear to support the CASEVAC and ground missions," stated Gramuglia, a San Diego native. "But, make no mistake about it, this place is not home. It is still dangerous. However, the Marines are motivated in their mission to support the Marines and soldiers on the ground."