Photo Information

Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are in a blur of activity as they pack up the squadron's gear at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, April 13. The squadron is headed back to the United States after turning over authority for providing aviation support to coalition ground forces in the Al Anbar Province to HMLA-169.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

Vipers assume responsibility over Al Anbar skies

1 May 2006 | Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

The Vipers of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 assumed authority from the Gunfighters of HMLA-369, for providing close air support, escort, surveillance, and reconnaissance to coalition ground and assault support forces in western Iraq.

Having been in Iraq for less than two weeks, the Vipers, part of Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, received plenty of help from their predecessors in preparing for the dangerous mission ahead.

"HMLA-369 did an incredible job of setting us up for success.  They flew most of our aircraft commanders on numerous missions, provided us with stellar briefs of the objective area and conducted personal turnovers with their counterparts in our squadron," said Lt. Col. Biagio Colandreo Jr., commanding officer, HMLA-169. "The (aerial tours) we received, were not only to help familiarize us with the geography, but also to introduce us to high threat areas of concern. We could not have assumed the mission as smoothly without the help of our sister squadron." 

The Gunfighters are heading back home to Camp Pendleton, Calif., after completing a busy seven-month deployment of their own.

"We probably ended up flying over 9,500 hours and the number of man-hours on the maintenance side is absolutely incredible," said Sgt. Maj. Troy R. Couron, squadron sergeant major, HMLA-369.  "We definitely made an impact supporting operations Iron Fist, Steel Curtain and those around Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad."

Making sure the squadron's helicopters were able to perform their crucial mission required the Gunfighter's enlisted Marines to bear down and get the job done no matter what the conditions were.

"The Marines did everything we asked them to do with no complaints, you could always go out there the worst day on the line, be it a sandstorm or brutal cold and the Marines always had a smile on their face, ready to perform the mission," said Couron, a Neb., native. "It's the best unit I've ever been in, as far as the mentality and absolute refusal to accept a bad product, they persevered through everything."

According to Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green, the HMLA-169 squadron sergeant major, HMLA-369 did an outstanding job, they kicked butt and took names for the last seven months and the Viper's Marines must continue the Gunfighter's tradition.

"We have real high standards in the Vipers, however my biggest concern is complacency," said Green, a Jackson, Miss., native. "Complacency is like a roller coaster of emotions. Right now, we have Marines that are raring to go, but three months from now, they may hit an emotional low. That's why it's important to get them in the mindset now that this deployment is a marathon not a sprint. They have to be able to carry on this pace for the next seven months or more."

This deployment will be the Vipers' third in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, making them the first light attack helicopter squadron to do so.

"We are the first to deploy a full HMLA for a third tour in Iraq," said Colandreo, a Rockville, Md., native. "We needed a completely revamped training and personnel management plan that took into account the demanding mission we have as well as the short preparation time between deployments."

The Vipers brought a significant number of first-timers on this deployment, but are also fortunate to have many veterans including several who fought at such notable battles as An Najaf and Fallujah in August and November 2004, respectively.  Armed with months of training, a solid turnover by HMLA-369 and a motivated group of Marines, the Vipers are ready and willing to bring the fight to the enemy.

"First and foremost, we have a job to do. It's hard not to be excited about being around such a great group of Marines performing at their peak," said Colandreo. "The amount of dedication and commitment to this cause is staggering to me as their commander. For the rest of my life, it will be the Marines that I served with that make this special. That's where the excitement comes from for me.  The enemy creates some excitement for us also, but we do what we can to eliminate that."