AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Marines with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 hosted an Iraqi luau at Al Asad, Iraq, Aug. 27, to celebrate their deployment's end.
"It's celebrating the Marine's last six months here and welcoming those other Marines back to Al Asad and, for those who haven't been here before, to Al Asad," said Master Sgt. Kevin Schulte, avionics chief, VMGR-352, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "It's just another way to celebrate, like a family reunion, as we are just one big family here.
"It's just something to get your mind off of the heat and dirt blowing," the El Toro, Calif., native added. "It helps to get you back to knowing there is a real world outside of the everyday mundane conditions here."
The luau also provided the chance for the unit to show their gratitude to the other units on base who have assisted them during the deployment.
"We invited a lot of people who have helped us out on the deck and aren't a part of the unit," said 1st Lt. James J. Lilley, assistant maintenance officer, VMGR-352. "It was just a good opportunity to get the people who worked with us and for us out here to say thanks and good job."
Lilley, a Bedrock, Texas, native, was the mastermind behind the feast, and he received the nickname of "Action Joe" for his achievements, according to Schulte.
"If it wasn't for him, a lot of this wouldn't have happened," said Schulte. "He called back to his wife, who got all of the decorations ready, and we brought (the decorations) with us on our last trip out here. He's just a prior-enlisted guy who enjoys looking out for his Marines."
A fund raiser started off earlier in the year helped the KC-130 Hercules squadron afford the decorations and part of the food for the feast.
"It was a plane wash," stated Lilley, a 34-year-old University of Arizona graduate. "You voted for your favorite staff noncommissioned officer or officer to wash an airplane, and it cost a dollar to vote. That was our main fund raiser, and we used the money from that to purchase decorations online."
The festivities of the night turned out to be a lot better than expected, according to Schulte. Nearly all of the squadron showed up, as well as several Marines and civilians from across the base who were invited.
"The best part was just watching the Marines unwind and have some fun, but you can't really put one thing above anything else," said Schulte. "Overall, everything all comes together and works together -- the food..., the games and the camaraderie. The Marines wanted to be here."