AL ASAD, Iraq -- Highly effective against personnel, vehicles and buildings, the AH-1 Super Cobra has proven itself over the past 40 years as one of the world's most reliable attack helicopters.
Combined with the versatility of the UH-1 Huey, the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron has earned a reputation for superiority in the skies above the battlefield.
It is the skill and hard work of ordnance Marines who load, arm and maintain the Cobras and Heuys deadly arsenal.
The ordnance Marines of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 work 24 hours a day to ensure the "Gunrunners" are ready at a moments notice to deliver death and destruction to the enemy.
"The whole purpose of the aircraft is a weapon system," said Chief Warrant Officer James A. Toponce, HML/A-269 ordnance officer and native of Melbourne, Fla. "If the ordnance doesn't work, there is no reason for the aircraft to fly."
Responsible for loading, arming and inspecting ammunition, rockets and missiles, the ordnancemen are on the flight line throughout the day to ensure the birds are ready for launch.
"Our number one responsibility is to ensure that the weapons systems are properly loaded and armed, so they work when the pilot needs them," said Cpl. Corey R. Wainscott, ordnance technician and native of Kirklin, Ind. "With a full crew, we need less than 15 minutes to load and arm the helos so they can get in the air and provide support to the troops on the ground."
With such an important responsibility, the ordnancemen constantly train and prepare in order to stay on top of their job.
"These Marines don't waste a second," said Gunnery Sgt. Greg T. Scott, ordnance chief and native of Centralia, Ill. "They are extremely well trained and they have instilled in them that every second they waste is a second that someone could be dying."
The mastery of their craft comes from extensive training in realistic environments and combat experience. About 70 percent of the Marines in the HML/A-269 ordnance section deployed with the squadron to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
"The first deployment was extremely fast paced and we learned a lot," said Cpl. John B. Schillero, ordnance technician and native of Seven Hills, Ohio. "Now, however, we are the only HML/A here, so we are applying that experience to do our part to ensure that every opportunity for our aircraft to support the ground side goes answered."
"It's amazing to see these Marines in action," Scott said. "The noncommissioned officers have the experience to teach and guide the newer Marines through the whole process. The newer Marines have learned more in one month than they would have learned in six back home."
Arriving here on the first of February, the Gunrunners' ordnance Marines continue to ensure the Cobras bite remains sharp.
"These Marines are tireless in their efforts to ensure 100 percent mission readiness," Toponce said. "Our piece of the puzzle is highly important to the mission, and we will continue to do what we have been doing to support the Marines on the ground."