MAG-16 rotates squadrons in Iraq

1 Sep 2004 | Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

The rotation of Marine forces is changing the face of Marine Aircraft Group 16 for the second half of this phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Some incoming squadrons are deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for the first time and are upbeat about their arrival, said Maj. Ian R. Clark, assistant aviation maintenance officer, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, MAG-16.

"During OIF I, the squadron was in Okinawa, (Japan)," said the 34-year-old from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. "We may have felt a little left out and were eager to do our part. (The Marines) have positive attitudes about doing their part and doing what they joined the Marine Corps to do. We are ready to execute missions in support of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force."

"Scarface" Marines of HMLA-367, MAG-39, have arrived in Iraq recently to replace the "Coyotes" of HMLA-775, MAG-46.

Gunnery Sgt. Drake S. Simms, quality assurance representative, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774, MAG-16, spoke of the reserve Marines' outlook on supporting the mission in Iraq.

"Most are excited to help out," he said. "The active component has been out here working hard, so it's good to come out and give them a break."

"Everybody knows it's their job," he continued about his fellow squadron mates. "They're proud of what they do and proud to be Marines even if it is part time. They all know it could be a full time thing if they're needed."

The "Moonlighters" of HMM-764, MAG-46, are being relieved from duty in Iraq by "Wild Goose," HMM-774, MAG-42.

Of the many concerns that face incoming squadrons, maintenance was on the top of the list, explained 1st Lt. Matthew R. Crouch, CH-46E Sea Knight pilot, HMM-268, MAG-16.

"There was some concern that the aircraft may suffer by being here for 14 months," voiced the 26-year-old from Reno, Nev. "The maintenance shop has laid that to rest.  (HMM-161) has really taken care of their birds. For the turnover, I am impressed by what they have left us. They have set us up for success."

The "Red Dragons" from HMM-268, have come from MAG-39 to assume the casualty evacuation mission from the "Greyhawks" of HMM-161, MAG-16.

Simms echoed Crouch's testimony to the aircrafts' condition.

"The condition of the aircraft is pretty good and they're holding up pretty well," said the 34-year-old from Suffolk, Va. "We don't think there will be a big problem keeping them up for seven more months. The 'Phrog' is a work horse and you just can't stop that thing."

Other concerns are also weighing on the minds of leadership within the incoming squadrons, revealed HMM-365's Sgt. Maj. Blaine H. Jackson.

"One of our biggest things is the weather," said the 39-year-old from Plaquemine, La. "We're coming in one of the hottest months in the year. We're getting people acclimated to the weather so they won't get fatigued working 12 to 14-hour days."

Many of the squadrons began preparing their Marines for the extreme Iraqi temperatures months before, he noted.

Blaine's "Blue Knights" from HMM-365, MAG-29, have taken over the support responsibilities from the "Raging Bulls" of HMM-261, MAG-26.

Other changes include the "Flying Tigers" of HMH-361, MAG-16, replacing the "Wolfpack" of HMH-466, MAG-16; the "Yankees" of VMGR-452, MAG-49, who are relieving the "Rangers" of VMGR-234, MAG-41; and the "Vipers" of HMLA-169, MAG-39, who have already turned over with the "Warriors" of HMLA-167, MAG-26.  Other units will be changing over personnel, but staying in Iraq to continue operations.

All incoming personnel have nothing but glowing remarks about their predecessors in Iraq. This may give them a goal in excellence to shoot for, according to Jackson.

"When you replace a unit that has done exceptionally well, you want to at least meet that level," Jackson revealed. "They have set a precedence. They have done a complete and thorough turnover so we could take over and not miss a beat."

The reserve Marines have echoed Jackson's statements, noted Simms, but he also spoke of fulfilling the legacy that the outgoing crews have left behind.

"I think there's some pressure to do well...not as much pressure as much as pride," he said. "HMM-764 has proven themselves that they can do what the active guys can. We want to uphold that."

Although the incoming squadrons have been given transition assistance in arriving, all of the squadrons have received training for the long months ahead, which the Marines will hold onto when they meet the new challenges that will face them, Simms noted.

"We train at home to do this and everybody knows what to do," he said. "There's an inherent danger of taking fire. Hopefully, the training we have done will carry us through without incident.

"I think that what we're doing here is important," Simms continued about Marines' presence in Iraq. "We're doing the right thing and I hope we can resolve this so Iraq can be a free country."