AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- More than 100 years have passed since the fastest pistol-drawing gunfighters dominated the saloons and streets of the American West. Halfway around the world, a different kind of gunfighter is leaving its own mark on insurgent forces in Iraq's own wild west, the Al Anbar province of Iraq.
Known as the Gunfighters, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been patrolling the Iraqi skies with UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters for nearly seven months, ready to fire their deadly suite of weapons on insurgent forces.
The helicopters' weapons, ranging from mini-guns to missiles, would be simple window dressings in Iraq, if not for the swift efforts of the Gunfighters' ordnance division Marines.
At the sound of the alarm, like colts bolting out of the gates at the Kentucky Derby, ordnance Marines race from their bunker-like trailers to the line of Hueys and Cobras to prepare for battle.
"When the alarm goes off, we're on the run. A four-man team runs out to get the helicopter ready for the pilot," said Lance Cpl. Nick W. Molthen, an aircraft ordnance technician and Seattle, native. "This saves a lot of time because two separate Marines can arm the weapons on each side while the others inspect, making sure everything is safe."
Less than thirty seconds passed when the last weapons' safety pins were pulled and the helicopters were ready for take off.
"Back in the United States, it's common for the arming process to take a few minutes, but we're not in a training environment here, so we instituted a new system to speed things up," said Master Sgt. Alan W. Jones, the ordnance division chief. "Our goal was to get the birds out safely and as fast as possible without cutting any corners. Five days into the deployment I sat down with the team leaders, took their input and (the new system) has worked ever since."
The world record arming time is not why the ordnance Marines perform their jobs with such urgency. They do it to save lives.
"Every second saved in the arming process means we give the guys on the ground a better chance of making it," said Jones, a Taylorville, Ill., native. "We hear back from the ground commanders expressing their appreciation for the quick support we give them."
According to Molthen, the Marines hear rumors coming back to the squadron from ground units that whenever the Cobras and Hueys show up on the scene, the shooting stops from the enemy.
"That's why I love this job! Arming the birds, doing what I'm trained to do, and getting the mission done," he said.
It is that zeal for their role in the fight against insurgent forces in Iraq that has made it possible for the ordnance Marines to work long hours, and still stay focused on the task of arming the helicopters throughout their deployment.
"These Marines have done an outstanding job over the past six months. Their performance has always been at the highest level," said Jones. "There is no doubt in my mind that I have the best Marines in the Corps, and I have been doing this for 22 years."