AL ASAD, Iraq -- Thirty-seven proud reserve Marines stood in a formation of tight columns and rows as three other Marines moved about their ranks handing out Combat Aircrew Insignias to qualified Marines of HMM-764 at a ceremony held here, May 7.
Col. Guy M. Close, commanding officer, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Lt. Col. Mark A. Bowen, commanding officer, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764, MAG-16, 3rd MAW, and Sgt. Maj. Daniel D. Townsend, squadron sergeant major, HMM-764, awarded the Combat Aircrew Wing insignias to the Marines of HMM-764 who have qualified for the wings since arriving in Iraq. The ceremony was held around early dusk outside of the squadron headquarters building with the rest of the squadron's Marines present.
The reserve squadron, nicknamed the "Moonlighters," is a CH-46E Sea Knight squadron based out of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. They arrived in country in different waves throughout March, and are augmented to MAG-16.
Gunnery Sgt. Daniel A. Hoose, flight equipment staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, HMM-764, has been in the Marine Corps more than 14 years and has finally earned his combat wings.
"It's what every crewmember waits their whole career for," the Reading, Calif., native claimed. "Some Marines come right out of school and (go into combat) and receive theirs. Others, like me, wait their whole career."
One of the newest additions to the squadron was Lance Cpl. Robert S. Tamayo, Sea Knight crew chief, HMM-764. The 24-year-old Marine arrived at his new squadron only a few short weeks before deploying to Iraq.
With less than 40 flight hours of experience under his belt, and no flight experience with his squadron before deploying with the Moonlighters, Tamayo also earned his combat wings. The young Marine was very humble about earning his wings alongside the senior Marines of his squadron.
"It's hard to wear the same wings as the (experienced) guys," he reflected. "They've got so much time and put in so much. I consider myself very fortunate, and I was really proud to get (the wings)."
However humble the young Marine is, the points toward qualification are not tallied from the experience a crewmember has gained throughout their career. They are combat wings, and only those individuals throughout history who have been in combat and seen it firsthand, are the ones who have earned the wings.
The history of the combat wings goes back into Marine and Navy history as far as World War II. The new "Aircrew" insignia was implemented in 1943 to recognize the hard work of enlisted crewmembers flying in combat environments.
The insignia has encountered slight variations over the years and is currently a silver-winged metal pin, with a centered, gold-colored fouled anchor in a circular shield. Below the shield are the words "Air Crew" in silver and above the shield is a silver bar, where three gold stars can be placed.
The insignia was originally intended for enlisted aircrews. However, commissioned and warrant officers are authorized to wear the device as long as they are not pilots and have met all the qualifications.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Richard L. Gyure, maintenance material control officer, HMM-764, is one of the few officer crewmembers who earned his wings during the May 7 ceremony. The Mine Hill, N.J., native has been with the Moonlighters for 5-years and in the Marine Corps for nearly 18 years. Gyure claimed that being an aerial gunner/observer is a privilege he is glad to have.
"For me to get my wings out here, there are no words for it, just a lot of pride," he claimed. "(I got them) while helping (Marines) stay alive so they can do their jobs."
The warrant officer and the other crewman in the squadron have earned their wings by transporting troops, cargo and injured people to different places located across Western Iraq. Their job is to make sure they get their cargo and personnel there safely, Gyure explained.
This is a big responsibility for the Marines, particularly the young Marines, stated Staff Sgt. William S. Sayles, Naval Air Training and Operations Standardization staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, HMM-764.
"The biggest problem is the new Marines have never deployed before," he revealed. "To curb their anxiety and fear, we explain that we are all the Marines have. This keeps them focused on the task at hand."
The Marines have been focused on the mission at hand and that has kept their performance level high while they earned their combat wings, noted Gunnery Sgt. Larry L. Kenitzer, maintenance control chief, HMM-764.
"They've been working 14- to 18-hour days and they don't complain," he noticed. "They are over here doing their best. You couldn't ask for a better bunch of guys."
Kenitzer also earned his wings while here in Iraq.
The long road since their arrival in Iraq has cost the Marines hard work and long hours, but the wings they now proudly wear are not the prize for their effort, but a symbol of the work, Kenitzer said. The journey is the real prize, said the Clovis, Calif., native.
"They are hard-chargers," he said. "They are glowing and their chests are swelled up."
"The (wings) show that they were here helping with the mission," he concluded. "They feel like they've accomplished something. They have."