AL ASAD, Iraq -- The pilots and aircraft maintainers of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 533, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are responsible for making sure the squadron's F/A-18D Hornets provide the best aviation support possible to ground forces in the Al Anbar Province.
While the pilots and aircraft maintainers spend long hours flying and fixing the jets, there is another group of Marines in the squadron that manage the Hawk's personnel records, intelligence, training and operations, logistics and communications.
Those Marines belong to support sections and are commonly known as the S-shops.
According to Lance Cpl. Christopher B. Lampson, the personnel administrative shop's three enlisted Marines handle all of the squadron's mail, pay issues, awards, promotions and anything else to do with a Marine's service record.
"Out here we get a lot of pay questions and issues, and it's our job to help Marines understand their pay. We're here for the Marines. They know that if they have any pay problems that they can come to us, and we're going to fix it. If we do our job then they are out there worrying about what those jets are doing and not their pay," said Lampson, a personnel clerk and Brownwood, Texas, native. "Really our job isn't any different out here than in the rear, a lot of the same work just in a different location. All I need is a copier, scanner and a computer with email capability and I can operate."
Knowledge on the modern battlefield is often the key to success and the intelligence section office for the Hawks makes sure the squadron has the information necessary to carry out their high-flying missions.
"I would say our piece of the mission is pretty important. We prepare morning and evening briefs of all the previous days significant events for the pilots, letting them know about any threats out there that they should be aware of," said Cpl. Terence L. Lambert, intelligence analyst and Gadsden, Ala., native. "Every now and then we'll create maps for the pilots, but most of the time the maps come from the ground guys. The pilots use them while they're speaking with the forward air controllers to make sure they're looking at the same building for example."
The intelligence section also includes the squadron's ground station where five additional intelligence Marines examine the photos taken by cameras aboard the squadron's Hornets.
"We analyze the pictures, but basically we work for the ground guys. Anybody that wants imagery can task (the Hawks). We're a tactical asset that the ground units can request information from on a hotspot," said Sgt. Kay Dee Kirt, imagery analyst and Gillette, Wyo., native. "Unfortunately, we really don't get much feedback from the ground guys, but we know that they're grateful for the information."
Right next door to the intelligence section, the operation and training section's four Marines partner with the squadron's pilots to track the details of their flights.
"I do anything to assist the pilots documentation of flight information. It's important to keep track of their flight hours, what mission type it was, how many sorties, basically what they have done on that flight," said Sgt. Jason L. Contos, assistant operations chief, and a Woodbridge, Va., native. "The four of us work 12 on and 12 off. When the pilots are flying a lot, we're busy, and they fly a lot out here, probably three times as much as in the United States."
Centered in the middle of their headquarters are the four Marines assigned to the Hawk's supply and logistics section, who are responsible for the squadron's embarkation and supplies.
"Before the deployment, we made all the arrangements, packed all the gear, and organized transportation, billeting and the loading of all the planes," said Sgt. Robert T. Criblear, embark and logistics chief. "When we got here, we made sure everybody was functional. Now we make sure everybody has what they need to work everyday."
In addition to making sure the squadron's Marines have everything they need to get the job done, the logistics Marines provide additional services to the squadron to improve their living conditions.
"We take the squadron's dirty clothes down to the laundry five days a week, " said Criblear, a Philadelphia native. "We also go down to the class one and keep the squadron stocked up on things like Gatorade and beef jerky. I love my job. We're behind the scenes and nobody knows what we do -- it just gets done."
All the S-shops would be severely hindered in their tasks if not for the efforts of the Marines assigned to the Hawk's communications shop.
"We make sure the computer network is up and running and the computers are functioning," said Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Szadok, aviation information system specialist and Levittown, N.Y., native. "The pilots use the secure network for mission planning to get the right data and know what to do with it. It is on us to make sure they are able to."
Collectively, the various S-shops with VMFA(AW)-533 team up to provide all of the required support to enable the squadron to complete their mission in Iraq.