AL ASAD, Iraq -- The ability to request close air support is an indispensable asset to the Marines on the ground. For the Marines here, being able to rely on the AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Hueys of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 to provide them assistance when called upon is a welcome addition to the fight.
The Gunrunners detachment is performing many different types of missions while in Al Qaim including close air support, medical evacuation escort and supply convoy escort missions.
“Some days we are just on call and it’s quiet,” said Lance Cpl. Travis Miller, crew chief, HML/A-269 and Louisville, Ohio, native. “But we also have days when we have missions one right after another … all day long. It all evens out at the end of the week.”
With Al Qaim only 11 miles from the Syrian border, the Gunrunners have a big part in keeping insurgents in Syria and out of the neighboring towns.
According to Miller a big part of the Gunrunners success is their maintenance crew, which consists of three Marines from each maintenance section, who keep birds in the air and ready for action.
“The maintenance Marines are outstanding,” Miller said. “The work they do makes the aircrew’s job a lot easier because we don’t have worry about the reliability of our birds. We know they won’t send out a bird that is not ready for combat.”
A few Marines were with the squadron when they deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. The Gunrunners were the first Marine light/attack helicopter squadron to see action at the beginning of the war.
“Compared to then our jobs are a little easier because we are doing more reconnaissance work and planning. Before during the beginning of the ground war we had aircraft in the air at all times,” said Sgt. Travis Storie, ordnance technician line chief and Abingdon, Va., native. “If a helicopter was ready to fly it was being flown.”
Now with the helicopters being used primarily for escort missions, the maintenance Marines are dealing with less wear and tear on the aircraft.
“In 2003 we would send our aircraft up and they would return with almost no ordnance so we would have to constantly be loading more missiles,” said Cpl. Garrett Pallerzi, ordnance technician and Quitman, Texas, native. “Now we usually have more time to load and work on the aircraft.”
The maintenance Marines are required to work around the clock making sure their helicopters are ready to go at a moment’s notice.
"We don’t have a shift we work.” Storie said. “We have to schedule our day around the flight schedule, keeping in mind we might be needed to do something to the aircraft at the drop of a hat.”
The Gunrunners have a big responsibility serving so close to the Syrian border. They have to keep their readiness at full strength to ensure they are able to support the next mission.
“This what I came here to do,” Miller said. “We came to support, and to assist in any way we can. If it is to escort medical evacuations or provide close air support for an infantry unit in need of some extra fire power we are glad to do it.”