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AL ASAD, Iraq ? Lance Cpl. John Gonzalez, an ordnance technician with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 and Jackson, Mich., native, gives directions to a Moonlighter pilot after landing here July 30. The Moonlighters took part in exercises in California and Arizona to prepare for this deployment.

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Shannon Arledge

Moonlighters bring the sting to the Al Anbar province

5 Aug 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

The Moonlighters of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 joined the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Aug. 1 in support of stability operations in the Al Anbar province.

The Moonlighters replaced the Bengals of VMFA(AW)-224. Both squadrons are based in Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, S.C.

“We are here to continue the work of our predecessors in support of the II Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marines on the ground as they fight to keep Iraq free,” said Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Bourikas, the squadron sergeant major.

The Moonlighters’ efforts to support Operation Iraqi Freedom began months ago with training and preparation that would set them up for success while deployed.

“We are at the peak,” Bourikas said. “We are fully qualified and ready to accomplish the mission. We are the best fighter attack squadron in the Marine Corps and are at the pinnacle of Marine Corps aviation and ready to fight.”

The culmination of their training was when the Moonlighters participated in exercise Desert Talon in Yuma, Ariz. Desert Talon is a training exercise for units deploying to Iraq and gives them an idea of what to expect while serving forward.

“Desert Talon was a good experience,” said 1st Lt. Christine Vallely, a weapons and sensors officer with VMFA(AW)-332 and Garden City, N.Y., native. “It made everyone more comfortable with their jobs. It lets us see how we can successfully accomplish the mission no matter what we are tasked to do.”

“Desert Talon allowed us an opportunity to get a taste of the heat we would experience here,” said Lance Cpl. John Geary, a plane captain with the Moonlighters and Kansas City, Kan., native. “It also allowed us to operate with a strenuous flight schedule. We left there ready for the workload we would experience here.”   

A lot of the Marines have been waiting for their chance to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Being at home hearing the news of what their counterparts were doing only fueled their drive to take part in this operation.

“I have been wanting to come out here for a years,” said Pvt. Justin Rohrenbach, a Moonlighter plane captain and Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, native. “I finally am able to do the job Marines were meant to do. Watching it on the news nightly made me want to be here even more. I wanted the opportunity to do my part and serve over here.”

Along with the pride in service the Moonlighters have, the opportunity to gain experience in their different job fields was also very alluring, especially to the young Marines.

“Deploying here for seven months is equal to the experience you gain in a couple of years stateside,” Rohrenbach said. “The operational tempo is greatly increased along with the serious need for our aircraft to be ready to fight at all times. That makes everyone work harder and more efficiently to get our mission accomplished.”

The Marines all understand what their mission is here. It may not require dropping bombs on every mission, but keeping constant surveillance on the ground and being there when the Marines need them is just as important.

We are here to support the Iraqi people, according to Maj. David Phillippi, the weapons training officer with the Moonlighters and Alexandria, Va., native. “We are an extension of the ground forces that helps accomplish the mission,” he said. “We assist with the neutralization of insurgents throughout the Al Anbar province.”

*For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at*

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