AL QAIM, Iraq -- The Marines of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, Detachment Al Qaim have been very busy since arriving at this remote base near the Syrian border.
Originally based at Marine Corps Air Station, New River, N.C., the ‘Gunrunners’ deployed to Al Asad in February and immediately sent a small detachment of personnel and aircraft here.
They recently participated in Operation Matador and have been providing close air support, conducting armed reconnaissance, escorting convoys and flying over the areas where Marines from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment conduct operations in the desert.
When they’re not conducting operations that have a direct impact on the Global War on Terrorism, they’re still out soaring the Iraqi skies. They’re not out flying for fun though; they use these times to train and keep an eye on the ground for any insurgent activity.
“We train two or three times a week,” said Maj. Rick Ray, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot with the squadron, serving as the detachment’s officer-in-charge. “We have to make sure the younger pilots are getting training and qualifications in between missions.”
Maj. Mike Kane, a UH-1N Huey pilot assigned to a reserve unit from Pennsylvania, said two senior instructor pilots from his squadron are serving temporarily with the detachment and that benefits the younger pilots here.
“This squadron is spread out on two different sites and having two instructor pilots here brings more qualifications to the detachment,” said Kane, a native of Johnstown, Pa. “Not only do we allow younger pilots to continue training, but we’re manning aircraft in both the day and night with qualified crews.”
But the pilots are not the only Marines honing their skills. Lance Cpl. Andy L. Vistrand, a UH-1N Huey crew chief with the squadron, said the crew chiefs train frequently as well. He recently got his qualifications as a .50 caliber machine gun aerial gunner and is working on getting his qualifications for other weapons fired from the Huey.
“Every time we go out we get a chance to fire our weapons to ensure they are up to par and to improve our accuracy,” said Vistrand. “It’s not as easy as it seems to fire from the helicopter. We have to aim in a certain way to factor in the rotor wash.”
Keeping in mind that their primary mission is to support the Marines on the ground, the ‘Gunrunners’ squeeze in some training every time they have an opportunity. Marines in the squadron’s operations section keep track of which training the aircrews here require and work out a training schedule for them.
According to Ray, it’s important to train their younger aircrews and help them get as many qualifications as possible because more than likely they’ll deploy here again during their time in the Corps.
“Some of the pilots who are here will probably be back later,” said Ray, “and though we’re going to have time to train once we get home, there also has to be time to be with the families and the holidays will be coming up soon. The more training we get here, the better.”