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Tackling their projects with energy and enthusiasm, the combat engineers with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), provided a key service to residents here, whose local school has been used by an Iraqi Army battalion. The Marines spent several days constructing Southwest Asia huts for the battalion to live in, freeing up the school for its original intent: teaching the Iraqi children.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

Okinawa squadron puts boots on deck for first time

20 May 2008 | Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, currently assigned to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), is the first III Marine Expeditionary Force wing support squadron to deploy in support of the Long War.

The Iraq deployment allows the squadron Marines based in Okinawa, Japan, a chance to conduct operations in an environment to which most are not accustomed.

“We wanted to give our Marines and sailors the opportunity to make a global impact,” said Lt. Col. Matthew R. Crabill, squadron commanding officer. “They’ve been all over Asia during the past year, and when asked to deploy here, they said ‘yeah, I’ll do that too.’”

Deploying a 1st MAW support squadron, whose multi-facetted capabilities fulfill different roles and missions, will reduce deployments between other Marine aircraft wing squadrons.

Until the “Firebirds” transferred authority with MWSS-473 last month, the support duties were upheld by 2nd, 3rd and 4th MAW squadrons respectively; all headquartered in the continental United States.

Working with foreign militaries and breaching the language barrier is a familiar task to the Okinawa-based Marines.

“Coming from Pacific Command, the Marines are familiar with working with engineers from other countries,” said combat engineer platoon commander 2nd Lt. Crystal Serrano. “The big difference now is we’re in a combat environment and we’re always maintaining a constant state of awareness.”

Each day brings something new for the squadron as the Marines perform many functions of aviation ground support aboard Al Asad Air Base and throughout Anbar province.

“This is a highly technical unit with 40 to 50 (military occupational specialties) pulling together to complete several functions of aviation ground support,” said Crabill. “Everyone has to be professionally competent in their field, yet ready to become a part of a mission-tailored team at a moment's notice.”

The squadron has a command structure focused on small-unit leadership by noncommissioned officers, which along with dedication to complete the mission, is a large part of their success.

“Almost every Marine who had to extend their contract with us in order to make this deployment did so,” said Crabill. “Most of our leaders are Iraq and Afghanistan war-veterans who wanted to be with their Marines and sailors during this deployment. These are all measures of the command’s collective commitment.”