AL ASAD, Iraq -- With deployments increasing for Marines across the globe, reserve units are frequently activated to support the Global War on Terrorism.
Moonlighters of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764, from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and the Wild Geese of HMM-774, from Norfolk, Va. are in the middle of a two-year deployment cycle. With the Moonlighters replacing the Wild Geese, this becomes the second time these Marine reserve CH-46 squadrons have replaced one another in a combat zone. Six months ago it was the Wild Geese replacing the Moonlighters.
“Both of our squadrons have been activated for two years,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Huffman, maintenance control, HMM-774 and Winchester, Va. native. “During our two-year cycle we will both deploy here twice, with a six-month break in between.”
“We are performing the same mission in the same place we did 6 months ago,” said Maj. Francis Gala, administration officer, HMM-764. “The only differences are the hot spots in the region. When we were here before we never flew around Fallujah, but now we are able to fly into the area without too many problems.”
Although the Moonlighters are returning so quickly after their first deployment to Iraq, there has been some rotation of personnel that brings some new faces to the fight.
“We have augments from other reserve squadrons,” Gala said. “We picked up a few Marines who recently returned home after a deployment to Afghanistan.”
“We have 13 crew chiefs,” said Staff Sgt. George Y. Young, maintenance control clerk, HMM-764 and Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. native. “Since we have 13 aircraft that means our crews will be working harder than normal to keep up our mission readiness. Just like any other Marine unit, we will get the mission accomplished if we are over or under-staffed.”
With the two units rotating in and out of country so often they turnover aircraft every time they deploy.
“We just leave the aircraft in place and have the other unit fall onto the others gear,” Huffman said.
Considering the CH-46’s have been in country for over a year now and still have one year left to go, the aircraft are in great condition, according to Young.
“The Marines are focused, and tend to take a lot of pride in their birds,” he said. “Back home, the Marines have some distractions, but here the aircraft is priority.”
With more than 4,000 flight hours carrying over 835,000 pounds of cargo and 14,000 passengers the Wild Geese have set the bar very high for their sister squadron and themselves for when they return.
“We expected to have a heavy workload,” said Lt. Col. John McGonagle, commanding officer, HMM-774 and Simsbury, Conn. native. “Our crews just did a phenomenal job. We averaged a 84 percent mission capable rate while flying more than 2,700 sorties.”
The Wild Geese also reached an important safety milestone while deployed to Iraq. They also flew their 70,000 mishap free flight hour in February.
“Passing the 70,000 hour mark without a mishap is a testament to our mechanics,” McGondagle said. “It shows how mature our unit is. We had a few of our Marines who didn’t have much experience in their jobs, but they performed well by quickly developing an understanding about how they help our team.”