AL ASAD, Iraq -- He could have spent his days in Iraq behind a desk in what would seem like relative safety. But flying is what really brings him to life and that lust for the freedom of the air earned this desk jockey an Air Medal for flying prowess in Iraq.
Major Jim Longi, a native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has been in Iraq since October 10 of last year. Longi came here to be the CH-53 future operations officer for 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, but for better or worse, circumstances changed. When the dust settled he found himself overseeing the assignment of helicopter missions for Marine Aircraft Group 16, a subordinate group of 3d Marine Aircraft Wing.
On March 1, when 2d Marine Aircraft Wing assumed the mission for Marine air support from the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, Longi made the switch. He is now pulling duty as a future operations planner for the 2d Marine Aircraft wing and is stoked to be receiving this award.
He earned the Air Medal for flying more than 75 hours of combat missions over this desolate and dusty land. When asked how he felt to have reached such a milestone his response was a simple, "great!" But in what I have come to know as true Longi form he added, "but as for all awards, it's a direct reflection on the Marines who serve under and around me, especially the mechanics and schedule writers."
Getting those hours wasn't easy.
Longi was not a pilot assigned to any of the flying squadrons; he had to be ready and willing to jump when opportunities to fly popped up. Often the phone calls Longi received from a squadron commander were not to ask if he wanted a flight for some prescribed time. On one occasion he recalls the questions were simply, do you want to fly? How quickly can you be here?
Longi came to Iraq as an individual augment from Headquarters Marine Corps where he was a Facilities Planner at Installations and Logistics. He spent his first four months here, working future plans and assigning missions to squadrons. For some that would have been enough. For a pilot simply navigating a desk can be a challenge but add to that the occasional spate of indirect fire the enemy throws this way and his could be a pretty harrowing job. This is war after all.
Longi, who as been in the Marine Corps for 15 years is a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot by training and trade. And it is his vast experience in the CH-53E that led him where he is today. It is no accident that a guy assigned to an Installation and Logistics billet ended up in Iraq. While his job at Headquarters Marine Corps would have had him and his peers hard at the tedious work of planning for the upgrade and remodel of Marine Corps property world-wide, which itself would have been no small task, the war here called.
While being here is no real surprise, Marines fall into a very few categories, they are in Iraq, they are preparing to go or they have been there and are getting ready to go back. How Longi found out was a kick in the pants.
He was on vacation with his wife Mary and the Longi young-uns in Virginia Beach, Va. A hurricane had just blown through when he got a call from his boss. The call began with a brief discussion about the weather and Longi was pleasantly surprised that his boss had been thoughtful enough to call and inquire about their safety.
Then the other shoe dropped, talk about the weather was just small talk leading up to the literal call to arms. Longi was told he had 14 days to get ready.
Longi was granted a brief reprieve and 3 weeks later Longi, the good natured chap he is was cheerily soldiering on in Iraq, making the best of being away from family and seizing every opportunity to fly. It was that positive, can do attitude that earned him the medal he received.
Longi now has a ticket home and that is good news for him and his family. When asked to reflect on his time here he said, "I feel we've made a difference. We've continued to have some great leadership here in theater. The Marines are doing exceptionally well in battle but the most amazing observation has to be the high level of morale.
"We keep the bad guys on the run with offensive operations and we've given the Iraqi people a solid chance at a better life. I appreciate all of the support I've received from family, friends and the American people. We wouldn't have been as successful without it."