AL QAIM, Iraq -- More than 700 Marines comprise Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26, making it one of the largest aviation logistics squadrons in the Corps. While detachments of “Patriots” are spread throughout the forward operating bases in the western part of the country, those here can be counted with one hand.
Five aviation ordnance technicians represent MALS-26 in this remote base near the Syrian border. Their mission is to support the “Gunrunners” of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, Detachment Al Qaim in all of their operations.
“We receive, store and assemble all ordnance the Marines in the squadron request,” said Cpl. Charles Smith, a native of Drayden, Md. “We ensure they have sufficient ordnance to support operations and that it works as advertised the first time.”
According to Smith, it’s extremely important for ordnance to work the first time because the lives of Marines on the ground depend on it. “If the pilots get the call that troops are in contact and they go out to support them and our rockets don’t work those grunts could get killed,” he said.
During every ordnance build-up Smith serves as the team leader while three other Marines serve as team members. Staff Sgt. Danny Rangel, staff noncommissioned officer in charge, is the quality assurance safety observer. Every time the team builds ordnance Rangel and Smith make sure every component is assembled properly.
Rangel and his team receive the components necessary to build ordnance and store them until Marines from HML/A-269 give them word that more ordnance is needed.
“Our operational tempo is busy whenever operations are going on,” said Rangel, from Placentia, Calif. “After that, it all depends on the squadron’s tempo; if they’re out engaging the enemy then we’re building more ordnance. The squadron dictates our tempo.”
The ordnance Marines here volunteered to serve at a forward operating base. When asked why they chose to serve at a remote location their answers were the same: to help make Iraq a better place.
“It’s good to know that all the training we’ve done is paying off and we’re making a difference,” said Lance Cpl. Adam M. Stinley, a Boyertown, Pa., native.
The Marines begin their days at 6 a.m. by inventorying and organizing ordnance. They work 16-hour days and are required to sleep a minimum of eight hours. In their line of work remaining alert is crucial.
“We try to get everything done before it gets too hot and if we have to we continue working in the evening,” said Rangel. “We try to stay away from the heat whenever we can, but if operations are going then it doesn’t matter how hot it is.”
What pushes these Marines to keep going is knowing that their product is keeping those Marines on the ground safe and is ultimately eliminating insurgents.
“The birds support the ground guys,” said Rangel. “When they get the call the birds go out, and if we’re not building ordnance what are they going to shoot? Our motivation is knowing that those ground guys outside the wire will be coming back home and eventually to their families.”
Maintaining a good relationship with the Marines in the helicopter squadron is another thing that helps them work harder day after day. According to Rangel, the pilots stop by the ammunition supply point and thank them for their work, but what makes their day is hearing how their rockets or missiles helped save the lives of Marines on the ground.
“If a pilot in a helicopter can blow something up then the ground guys are saved from having to go blow it up themselves,” said Rangel. “That makes a difference for them, it saves them from exposing themselves to more danger.”
Every time helicopters leave this base to support combat operations, the hard work of the aviation ordnance technicians leaves with them. When the aircraft comes back and the rockets or missiles are missing it can only mean two things: there are less insurgents in the Al Anbar province and the lives of American service members were saved.