CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
About 600 Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are packing up and preparing to head back to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., after more than seven months serving as ground support for Regional Command (Southwest)’s air combat element.
The support squadron has expanded all four borders of the wing’s battle space by providing uninterrupted aviation ground support, undertaking extensive construction projects and conducting tactical operations.
“I couldn’t be happier with the performance of the Marines — their performance and the attitudes,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Ference, commanding officer of MWSS-274, the "Ironmen." “Across the board, I’ve been humbled by the number of compliments I have received from the flying squadrons. Those compliments are not a reflection of me; they are a reflection of the Marines.”
“Our Marines have been motivated about this [deployment] since we went through pre-deployment training, and have continued that attitude all the way through our deployment,” added Master Sgt. David Kinder, operations chief for MWSS-274.
The squadron surveyed more than twenty helicopter landing zones and improved six of them; removed, fixed and replaced about 400,000 square feet of AM2 expeditionary airfield matting; moved more than a million cubic yards of earth; issued about 8.8 million gallons of fuel; operated several forward arming and refueling points (FARPs); expanded and improved several forward operating bases; and is in the process of installing about 1.2 million square feet of matting for a massive 5,500-foot flight line at FOB Delaram 2.
The successful completion of these missions had a profound impact on 3rd MAW (Fwd)’s ability to successfully aid Afghan National Security and International Security Assistance Forces. The Ironmen’s hard work has allowed the wing to fly farther, longer and harder to help abate the Taliban threat, and bring stability to the Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
“If any one of those things fail, it has an impact on 3rd MAW (Fwd)’s ability to fly aircraft,” said Ference. “Our primary focus is allowing sustained sortie generation. The Marines know our customer is 3rd MAW (Fwd) and that’s what they’ve been focused on.”
“Our biggest accomplishment has been providing aviation ground support without interruptions,” said Kinder. “A support squadron is designed to support one FOB and two FARPs – we have supported 3 FOBs and two FARPs.”
MWSS-274 has also played an active role in tactical operations here in Helmand. The squadron implemented flight line security elements for Camp Bastion and Camp Dwyer from scratch, conducted convoys and provided convoy security. The squadron also provided 14 military policemen, a Navy corpsman and four combat engineers to work alongside other Marine units and Georgian service members to mentor ANSF at FOB Bakwa.
Police mentoring is somewhat outside the realm of the 14 functions of aviation ground support, but the Marines we sent out west to Bakwa did a great job, commented Ference. They accompanied and supported the ANSF as well as the Georgians on foot-mobile and mounted patrols and helped out quite a bit.
In addition, the unit’s military police established more than 300 vehicle checkpoints, searching in excess of 1,500 vehicles and 4,000 people. They confiscated contraband ranging from cell phones and fake badges, to weapons and ammunition.
Although the support squadron has made sustained contributions to operations here, it also had a large impact on the internal safety of Camp Leatherneck. MWSS-274 Marines risked their lives to provide about 36 continuous hours of firefighting to battle a 14-acre inferno that consumed the supply management lot here in May. The squadron’s aircraft, rescue and firefighting Marines also answered more than 1,750 other calls aboard Camp Bastion and FOB Dwyer during the deployment.
The Ironmen, regarded by 3rd MAW (Fwd) leadership as masters of many trades, have served as an integral part of the ACE here, performing as the ‘grunts’ of the air wing.
“I’m in awe of them,” said Sgt. Maj. Anthony Spadaro, sergeant major for 3rd MAW (Fwd). “They are literally the jack of all trades and the master of all as well. I have watched magic. ‘You want it when?’ And it’s done.”
Their efforts have helped expand the reach of the wing and allowed pilots to fly longer distances in shorter times to help support ground units as they work to win the trust of the Afghan people. The unit will transfer authority to MWSS-373, from MCAS Miramar, Calif., Sept. 26.