AL ASAD, Iraq -- Brushing the grit from their faces and the sand from their eyes, the Marines with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 completed their second deployment to Al Asad, Iraq, April 1, and are heading home to Norfolk, Va.
The Marines with HMM-774, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have spent the last seven months transporting Marines and cargo, providing assault support and maintaining their aircraft in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Our mission is to augment with the active duty forces and provide full mission capable Marine helicopter assault support in the time of a national crisis," said Lt. Col. Leo A. Kilgore, commanding officer, HMM-774.
According to Kilgore, a Yukon, Okla., native, it's the second deployment the squadron has completed in a total span of 19 months.
"There's not any other Marine squadron out there that has deployed 14 of the last 19 months," he said. "Some squadrons have been out here for 10 months. Some have been out here 12 months in the last few years, but none have done 14 months in a 19-month period."
As most deployed squadrons are filled with active duty Marines, the Wild Goose squadron is amassed of Marines from three of the duty categories.
"A lot of these Marines are reservists, which is about 50 percent of the squadron," said Kilgore, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate. "They live in places like Connecticut and Ohio. When we were in the United States, they didn't get to go home every weekend or see their families that often. When you get right down to it, they have gotten to see their families a total of 90 days in the last two years."
Although the Wild Goose squadron hasn't been able to visit their families that often in the past two years, they have kept mission accomplishments to a maximum.
"We haven't dropped a flight," said Sgt. Maj. Steven M. Golder, sergeant major, HMM-774. "The Marines have met every mission. The planes have always flown above 80 percent mission capable.
"Being from the ground side, it's different seeing how the air side operates," the native of Baltimore added. "It is very impressive to see these young Marines working the way that they do. They've covered every mission that they had and did everything they were supposed to do."
As the coming days begin to pass and the Marines with HMM-774 draw closer to home, a few Marines may find themselves glancing back towards the desert.
"This is where the mission is," said Maj. Paul W. Voss, assistant aircraft maintenance officer, HMM-774. "This is where you want to be as a Marine. This is a reserve unit that has been activated going on two years now. You have a pretty diverse crowd of reservists, active reservists and active duty Marines working together, and they are all seasoned veterans."
However, most of the Marines with the Wild Goose squadron are ready to hang up their uniforms for a short while and get back to normal life.
"It's more than getting back to their families," said Golder, who has served 27 years in the Marine Corps and is scheduled to retire soon after returning home. "They want to get back to what they call the real world. They want to enjoy life for awhile. The constant rotation of 24 hours on and 24 hours off with a day off a month -- they are just ready for a break."
According to Kilgore, a resident of Midlothian, Va., the squadron has made several achievements during the past two deployments, but there is one that stands out above all the rest.
"Not one person has been hurt or killed, and I haven't had to plan for a memorial service," said Kilgore. "This is proof positive that three different areas in the Marine Corps -- the reserves, the active reserve and the active duty -- can come together to become one team, one fight.
"I think we have exemplified that better than anyone," he concluded. "We've definitely proven the mettle of reservists and we've also proven that the system works. They did their job, and I can't think of a better squadron to take home right now."