AL ASAD, Iraq -- In the early months of 2006, Marines stationed on the West coast of the United States boarded a plane headed to the desert lands of the Middle East. The deployment was to be a year in the western Al Anbar Province of Iraq.
Now that the calendar has recently flipped past the New Year of 2007, the service members with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) finally get to look back on their accomplishments from their deployment's end.
"Third MAW (Fwd) has provided all six functions of aviation support to Multi-National Forces West," said Lt. Col. Eric Steidl, operations officer, 3rd MAW (Fwd). "For our year here, this has been in support of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) combat operations."
Through more than 150,000 sorties, the aviation element of the MAW (Fwd) has flown about 100,000 hours, carrying and transporting more than 230,000 personnel and 75 million pounds of cargo.
It has provided rotary-wing and fixed-wing Close Air Support to three regimental-sized units in addition to two Iraqi divisions. The MAW has also maintained a state of readiness to support raids, named operations, 24-hour casualty evacuations and medical evacuations, aerial refueling and battlefield circulation across the area of operations.
Detachment Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced) has provided aviation command and control for the entire MEF battle space, supplying liaison elements with the Combined Forces Air Component Command, I MEF (Fwd) and Regimental Combat Teams.
Maintaining four airfields and numerous landing zones, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced) afforded a great deal of non-traditional support to the I MEF (Fwd) in the form of explosive ordnance disposal, motor transportation and security.
"Our mission here has gone very well," said Col. Scott E. Kerchner, chief of staff, 3rd MAW (Fwd), and a Bedford, Ohio, native. "Even though the Air Combat Element is part of the Marine Air Ground Task Force, it's also self-sustaining. We're responsible for our base security, the route clearance for our convoys traveling between the Forward Operating Bases and more; not just the jets and helicopters, but also the ground support. It's a total package."
Although the wing provides support to combat operations and lacks both the mission and opportunity to communicate with the locals on a regular basis, they are responsible for saving the lives of many Iraqis.
"Our interactions with Iraqi people are limited when compared to that of the Marines patrolling outside the wire," said Steidl, a University of Washington graduate. "However, things like medical-evacuation support have a direct impact on them, as we have flown the injured to medical treatment facilities."
Throughout the year-long deployment, 3rd MAW (Fwd) has had many pages filed in the history books.
The first full CH-53D Sea Stallion squadron to deploy in more than 10 years, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 from Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, came to Al Asad, Iraq, to serve with the 3rd MAW (Fwd). Another Marine squadron, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 of MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., deployed as a whole for the first time since Operation Desert Shield.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 joined the Wing from Carrier Air Group 12 to help with combat operations for a few months. Later, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) offered its help in the same manner, providing Marines, aircraft, maintenance, logistics and more.
The Marines with 3rd MAW (Fwd) have also worked hand-in-hand with soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment of the Virginia Army National Guard for the first time in history.
"The Marine Corps is making history every day … 3rd MAW (Fwd) is part of that history," said Steidl, a native of Idaho Falls, Idaho. "Whether that be integrating Army units or carrier squadrons into our operations, coordinating and integrating new units and systems into the battle space, or developing and refining tactics, techniques and procedures as we adapt to the ever-changing battlefield. It was all in support of our mission. We are all involved in something of tremendous importance to our nation, a task that we do not take lightly.
"For 231 years, the Marines have been setting the standard," Steidl continued. "That standard is one we strive to achieve every day, not so we can live up to the legacy of the Marines who came before us, but rather for those who follow us, our families and our country."
As the bags are being packed and loaded, and 3rd MAW (Fwd)’s deployment draws to a close, the Marines and other service members, who gave a year of their life and more to serve their country in time of war, can look back on their time out here and know that it wasn't wasted.
"Tom Brokaw wrote a book about America's greatest generation … they rose to the task and set the stage for the liberties, freedoms and quality of life we enjoy today," concluded Steidl. "Well, the Marines, sailors and soldiers of 3rd MAW (Fwd) are doing the same thing today. Without them and their dedication to completing the task our generation is presented with, our future will have a different outcome. Yes, I am privileged to serve with the finest our country has to offer."