Al Asad, Iraq -- Around the clock, the F/A-18D Hornets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All Weather) 242, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are constantly armed and ready to respond to any call to support Marine ground units in Iraq.
Maintaining that state of perpetual readiness has not been an easy task.
The squadron's leadership credits the resolve of their ordnance Marines for helping deliver a high level of productivity in the harsh desert environment here.
"All of our Marines and Sailors are very hard workers," said Sgt. Maj. Charles H. Oldham, sergeant major, VMFA(AW)-242. "But the ordnance Marines in particular have been working some long hours in awful heat conditions."
After spending a day with the Bats' ordnance ground crewmembers, one can see why Marines have a lasting reputation for their zealous professionalism, dedication, and commitment to their mission.
"Since our arrival in Iraq a few weeks ago, we have maintained an extremely high operational tempo," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas M. Andersen, ordnance officer, VMFA(AW)-242, and native of Salt Lake City. "Within a few hours of being on deck we had ordnance loaded and standard combat load munitions were being employed in support of Marines on the ground.
"We have had a lot of coordination with the grunts and so consequently combat munitions are constantly being moved," he added. "Our ordnance shop has been the busiest in the squadron."
Working 12-hour shifts, with occasional overlap, the enlisted members of the squadron's ordnance shop are largely "green," or new to the squadron, but their recent accomplishments belie their experience level.
"Some of these young lance corporals just got out of their (military occupational specialty) school or came over to us from (Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101) back at (Marine Corps Air Station) Miramar(Calif.)," said Master Sgt. Charles Frick, squadron ordnance chief. "They have really come together remarkably as a team and are one of the best crews I have ever seen."
Frick, a native of Anna, Ill., added that the Marines in his shop have no margin for error. When the alert is called they have only one shot to have Hornets reloaded for a new mission in a matter of minutes.
So far, 'Bats' ordnance crews have accomplished every mission assigned to them, either on time or with time to spare.
"We are extremely proud of this crew and they have contributed to our mission here tremendously," said Andersen. "They deserve some recognition for their performance and commitment to duty."
Gunnery Sgt. Anthony J. Garcia, ordnance staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, VMFA(AW)-242, and San Antonio native, said that the young Marines in his shop have "geled" superbly. He also mentioned that they demonstrate a rare eagerness to understand new things and they take the initiative to read publications to learn as much as they can about their job.
"I know a lot of other people have said it too, but I am very proud of them," said Garcia after mentoring the young group of Marines in their workspace during a brief pause in the day's flight operations.
Before deploying to Iraq earlier this month, a few of the ordnance shop's lance corporals had to stay behind due to manpower constraints, according to Andersen.
There were no volunteers.
During their work shifts, the ordnance crews have little time to rest. If they do have a short break in between flights, the Marines are either having a quick bite to eat, cleaning their weapons, doing pull-ups, studying or doing something related to their job. They are constantly occupied with work-related activities, but they also like to crack light-hearted jokes.
The shop's younger Marines come from diverse backgrounds and from different states across the country. Yet they share a positive work ethic and an understanding of their role that manifests itself on the flight line of this former Iraqi Air Force base in western Iraq.
"We know that what we do out here affects the grunts on the ground in other parts of Iraq, so we take this job very seriously," said Lance Cpl. Ruben R. Giner, ordnance technician, VMFA(AW)-242, and a native of Salinas, Calif.
Events in Iraq throughout August saw the 'Bats' flying more than 900 hours compared to a monthly training average of 400, according to Andersen. The demands of such a busy combat environment often taxes the human spirit, but the youthful vigor of VMFA(AW)-242's ordnance crew might never lead one to believe it.