AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Marine Corps is comprised of Marines from all over the United States, but one particular squadron has 12 percent of its warriors coming from the one place where the towers are tall, the farmlands are vast and the spirits are strong -- New York.
The Empire State is home to 16 of the Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"It was surprising to find out that there are a lot of New Yorkers in the squadron," said Sgt. Michael Walton Jr., ordnance technician, HMH-463, and a 25-year-old Baseside, N.Y., native. "It's pretty cool to have people who know what you know and like what you like."
Having a mixture of Marines from "The Big Apple" has helped them form relationships with other Marines, as well as find new and different competitions to motivate each other.
"You kind of connect with people easier," said Cpl. Michael M. Homer, flight line mechanic, HMH-463, and a 22-year-old Syracuse, N.Y., native. "You also have that state pride. We are like the epitome of the north, as Texas is the epitome of the south. It's fun. It is a lot more relaxed, and we get to know each other a lot easier."
The New Yorkers also have a strong backbone, according to Sgt. Yurian D. Uribe, flight line mechanic, HMH-463.
"There's not a lot of New Yorkers who would take a lot of crap," said Uribe, a 22-year-old White Plains, N.Y., native. "We are pretty much the most outspoken Marines. We like to step up and shine above everyone else. We just have that drive. You try to get it to rub off on your other Marines, as well."
The home state connection also gives the Marines something to relate to when they are talking during their off hours where boredom most easily sets in.
"If you are talking about an area, and (the person you are talking to) already knows about it, you don't have to talk about the little details before going into the story," joked Cpl. Christopher J. Santiago, maintenance administration specialist, HMH-463, and a 20-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They will have other stories to add on to it, too."
"It makes things a little easier to have someone you can relate to," said Cpl. Paul T. DeHorney, ordnance technician, HMH-463, and a Bronx, N.Y., native. "It helps to get your mind off of being out here and have someone to talk to about where you came from."
The fact that so many Marines in the squadron are from New York really does help the work environment, according to Gunnery Sgt. Stephen J. Eagar, flight line chief, HMH-463.
"Being one of the older members, the generation gap sometimes doesn't help, but having comments of places and events that intertwine or relate to us through common place make it easier," said Eagar, a 35-year-old native of Manhasset, N.Y. "It makes it more enjoyable because you can share jokes, opinions or points of view on common things that we've done no matter what age you are."
Being one of the elder New Yorkers in the squadron, Eagar also had the liberty of bringing three of the New Yorkers in the squadron into the Marine Corps while he was on recruiting duty.
"I was a recruiter in New York for three years," said Eagar, a graduate of JFK Plainview High School. "Some of the guys that are here are because I recruited them. Two of the sixteen, I recruited myself, and another was recruited by someone who worked for me. Did I think that they'd wind up this many miles from home? No, but I thought it was pretty significant that a lot of the Marines I recruited ended up in some of the squadrons next to ours in Hawaii."
However, several Marines believe it was just "luck of the draw" that so many New Yorkers ended up in the squadron.
"I feel it's more of a coincidence than anything," said Eagar. "I believe that we are a team of Marines who happen to be from New York who get to share our camaraderie and our past and help each other cope with living in the extreme environment of Iraq. We mentor each other and give each other support from a New Yorker's perspective."
With the pride of the Empire State behind them, the Marines with HMH-463 continue to strive for the best.
"The common phrase that kind of goes back and forth is, 'If you come from New York, you can pretty much accomplish anything,'" said Eagar. "It kind of gives you a double-edged sword when you have the title of U.S. Marine attached to that. So, with our motto of any clime and place, the same thing goes with a New Yorker. You are always going to stick to your battles and find a solution to win. So, being a Marine from New York, you see something that you want to do or accomplish; you do whatever it takes to get it done. Your resourcefulness is immeasurable."
Being a Marine from New York is still all about carrying out the mission, according to Uribe.
"It's good being out here and seeing other people from New York who you can relate to, but what it all comes down to is you are Marines trying to accomplish the mission," concluded Uribe, a White Plains High School graduate. "It doesn't matter where you're from or who you are, as long as everybody stays together, stays focused and completes the mission."