AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Activated reserve Marines from Johnstown, Pa., along with active duty personnel from Camp Pendleton, Calif., came together to make Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 775 in 2003.
The squadron is busy in the middle of their second deployment to Iraq in two years, performing the same mission, at the same place and at the same time of year.
“This is nothing new to us. We just picked up where we left off last fall,” said Lt. Col. Karl Frost, the Coyotes executive officer. “We are in the same work spaces and everything as the last time.”
The only difference the Coyotes have experienced from their AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Hueys is the reduced insurgent activity throughout Iraq.
“We have experienced a big reduction of insurgent engagement of our aircraft and a big reduction of our troops under fire missions,” said Maj. Mark Voelker, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot with HML/A-775.
A majority of the Coyotes tasks include casualty and medical evacuation missions where they provide security for the Army’s UH-60 Blackhawks of the 571st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) and CH-46Es of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364.
“CASEVAC and MEDEVAC missions are a big part of our job, but we also respond to troops on the ground when needed and serve as convoy escorts by providing close air support to units throughout Iraq,” Frost said.
“The ground Marines really like having us around,” said Voelker, a Pittsburg, Pa., native. “They like it because they don’t get shot at or mortared when we are around. A lot of times we get tasked with security missions that seem simple, but are a big help to our ground units because our sheer presence is enough to deter any attacks the insurgents may attempt on our ground forces.”
One Coyote, flightline mechanic Cpl. Rick Villani, has a unique perspective on how air power can help ground units. He is a former mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines and was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan for six-months. He has experienced first hand what good air support means to a ground unit.
“We had a few instances where insurgents were probing our lines, trying to see what our weaknesses were,” Villani, a Las Vegas, Nev., native said. “Whenever the Cobras were in the air patrolling the surrounding areas, we always had a sense of calm over us, like we were being watched over by a big brother. We almost wanted to dare them to do something to us so they would [give up their position] and the Cobras could go after them.”
Sections scheduled to fly each day have to be airborne within minutes of a call. The Coyotes exceed expectations by having their aircraft flying ahead of schedule after hearing about an emergency.
The Coyotes always have three sections of aircraft ready to fly. Missions can be organized at a moments notice while coalition forces are continuing to search for and apprehend any insurgents still operating within Iraq’s borders.
Reduced amount of insurgent activity is sign of success for the Coyotes. The less they are needed, the more Iraq seems to be stabilizing. Although not there yet, the Coyotes often think of how much it has improved since their last deployment to Iraq, a year ago.
“The fact that the whole country is a lot less hostile than when we first arrived last year is a great testament to the work we do here,” Frost said. “It is totally a team effort for us. It is great to know we have the ability to bring a unit together that is geographically separated back in the U.S. and operate as a team that has been together for years.”
As long as the Coyotes are patrolling the skies the insurgents face a losing battle and are unable to get a foothold in this region of Iraq. With more than 2,000 flight hours and 1,300 sorties, the Coyotes are proving they know how to get the job done. Between escort missions and providing close air support to personnel on the ground, HML/A-775 has a lot of work to be proud of and build on in the coming months.