AL ASAD, Iraq -- The “Vipers” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have recently arrived in Iraq as part of the scheduled rotation of forces supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The “Vipers” are replacing HMLA-167 as a multi-functional force in the Al Anbar province, said Lt. Col. Lloyd A. Wright, commanding officer, HMLA-169.
“Our mission is to continue attack and utility tasks for escorts, armed reconnaissance, close air support, and command and control,” said the 42-year-old from Kerrville, Texas.
Despite multiple obstacles, Wright said he believes his squadron is ready to fulfill their role.
“We had a late decision in our deployment order to come here. Other than a geographic difference, which caused us to slightly change gears and focus, our Marines have performed nothing less than outstanding,” said Wright.
“We had a short turn around after our last deployment, which has lessened our training time,” he added. “Although this is some Marines’ first deployment, we are still ready.”
The squadron is excited about the chance to support Operation Iraqi Freedom once again, said Sgt. Charles Trueblood, avionics technician, HMLA-169.
“I felt bad about coming out here because I have a family, and I know the guys who have died out here had families too. I would hate to see the look on my family’s face if something were to happen to me, but I have a job to do,” said the 24-year-old from Southgate, Mich. “I'm looking forward to the experience and knowing that I was a part of history, supporting our ground forces.
“People are excited to be here,” he added. “Things are a lot better for us here than they were the first time we came here.”
National media in the United States has brought out feelings of camaraderie, said Gunnery Sgt. Scottie Romero, airframes staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, HMLA-169.
“(Watching the news) made me want to come out here and do my part,” said the 32-year-old Raynes, La., native. “Our job can prevent a lot of Marines from being injured or killed.”
A change from last year, the “Vipers” arrived in Iraq ready to go, but without helicopters or maintenance gear, said Romero.
“We have accepted a lot of aircraft and gear from HMLA-167,” he explained. “It only took us 17 days to do it all. Our communication with them has been great. We know some of these faces because we come together to train.”
Familiarity has proved to be a useful asset on this deployment, said Gunnery Sgt. Terry Bradley, maintenance controller, HMLA-169.
“Something that helps us out is our experience from OIF I,” said the 32-year-old from West Point, Ga. “You can't find an advanced party movement that was as flawless as this one. The people supporting us have had a lot of time to practice and engineer solutions to problems.”
Now that the squadron has settled in, the focus is shifting to the mission at hand, said Wright.
“We have operations that will run 24 hours, seven days a week. It's tough work,” he said. “Every month here the threat changes. One of the most challenging things we face is staying one step ahead of the constantly evolving threats. All I ask of the squadron is that every task they are given, they execute it like professionals as they always have.”