Photo Information

The Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), maintain and create helicopter-landing zones at various locations in Iraq. Surveying the area to determine distance, elevation and angles is done during all phases of the operation.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

One step closer; MWSS-172 provides key step in mission-accomplishment

22 Apr 2008 | Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

Wing Support Squadrons do exactly what their name implies – support aircraft assets.

The dedicated Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), provide a pivotal link between the air and ground combat elements by modifying existing helicopter-landing zones at various locations in Iraq and creating new ones from scratch.

The HLZs become a key piece of real estate, serving as a solid landing area for rotary-wing aircraft, delivering Marines and fresh supplies into the fight.

“Every landing zone we create or modify brings us another step closer to catching the enemy,” said Staff Sgt. Donald E. Stehley Jr., the heavy equipment maintenance chief with MWSS-172. “We’re taking outdated LZs and improving them for the betterment of the coalition’s mission in Iraq."

During the missions, Marines battle the desert heat while braving the dangers that exist outside the perimeter of Al Asad Air Base.

Using heavy equipment, the Marines level the area, compact the dirt and lay down a coat of “rhino snot”, a soil-stabilizing substance which hardens the ground, preventing excessive dirt and sand clouds, or “brownout,” while aircrafts land on site.

Limiting brownout increases visibility, allowing pilots to land their aircraft safely while preventing unnecessary accidents or injuries.

“Having these Marines improve this LZ will allow us to continue to conduct operations out here and sustain a safe and smooth command post,” said Maj. Paul D. Mackenzie, the future-operations planner with Multi National Force – West. “We’re heavily dependent on the air wing for resupplies, close-air support and aerial reconnaissance missions.”

The sustainment of these landing zones prolongs its operating length, allowing each sight to sustain a sufficient mission pace in order to accomplish tasks as needed.

“By coming out here and doing this type of job, it puts the hard work and training these Marines do prior to deployment into perspective,” said Warrant Officer Owen B. Pottorff, the heavy equipment platoon commander for MWSS-172. “Knowing the large-scale impact our Marines have on the war effort makes them feel better about their job.”