AL ASAD, Iraq -- Thousands of Marines have kissed their families’ good-bye and traveled across the world to support the Global War on Terrorism. Some, who’ve answered the call of duty multiple times, remain away from their loved ones for months at a time and endure the sacrifice because of the firm belief that their involvement is necessary to accomplish the mission.
One of these war fighters is Sgt. Michael C. Steele. In the last three years, Steele has deployed once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Each time he’s left behind in eastern North Carolina his wife, the former Maria Rodriguez from Floresville, Texas, and their 4-year-old son, Isaac.
He’s missed the second and fourth birthdays of his son and will miss the fifth one while he’s here serving with the “Patriots” of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26 (Reinforced) from Marine Corps Air Station, New River, N.C.
A dynamic components mechanic trained to work on helicopter blades, rotor heads and belt cranks, Steele joined the Marine Corps in 1998. The 1994 graduate of Poteet High left San Antonio’s Palo Alto College after three-and-a-half years and continued a family tradition.
“I was close to graduating and got bored with it,” said Steele, whose father is a retired CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief. “I decided to come in.”
At the time of his enlistment, Steele’s brother was serving with the 1st Tank Battalion and his sister served with the 1st Force Service Support Group. “I guess it was inevitable.”
His first stop was Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif., where out of a series of three platoons with an average of 70 recruits per platoon, Steele was named the series honor graduate and was meritoriously promoted to the rank of lance corporal.
He then attended Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and after graduation reported to the Naval Air Maintenance Training Marine Unit, New River, where he attended dynamic components mechanic school.
The “Patriots” welcomed him in 1999, and less than three years later he departed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) for Jordan; Djibouti, Africa; and Afghanistan, where he took part in Operation Enduring Freedom and earned air crew wings, a breast insignia that recognizes the job done by enlisted air crews, flying as an aerial observer with the “Raging Bulls” of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-261 (Reinforced).
In January 2004, Steele temporarily joined the ranks of MALS-16, based at MCAS Miramar, Calif., and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He spent eight months working with a small detachment of Marines in Al Taqaddum, an air base in central Iraq, and returned to MCAS New River where he passed on the newly acquired knowledge to his Marines.
“I tried to prepare them mentally and let them know what was going to happen over here,” he said. “Everything that we do in the rear is just training for whenever we’re deployed.”
After five months of being back with his loved ones, Steele began another journey that would bring him back to Iraq. This time, he’s scheduled to be here for 14 months in support of OIF 04-06.
“I miss my wife and my son and I miss seeing him grow,” he said. “But I have a job to do and that’s to train these young Marines. Eventually I’ll be able to stay home for a while.”
His Marines, “the best bunch of Marines we’ve ever had,” are known within the unit for having “their heads screwed on right” and are focused on their individual mission and that of their work section, he stressed.
“Our ultimate goal is to support the squadrons,” said Steele. “When we support the squadrons, the squadrons support the ‘grunts’ and the mission gets accomplished.”