AL QAIM, Iraq -- Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, arrived here in early February. Known as a forward arming refueling point, 11 miles from the Syrian border, the Marines of the support squadron ensure their aircraft are prepared to launch or arrive in any situation.
More than 50 Marines here ensure the mission is accomplished 24-hours a day, seven days a week. These leathernecks are responsible for the off-loading and loading of equipment and personnel, ammunition, refueling, and security of the flight line and aircraft.
Lance Cpl. Julian A. Velazquez, 20, is responsible for security of the flight line which includes the safety of the Marines living and working here. Using a small paved road as a landing pad and take off point, this Miami, Fla., native is part of the units provisional rifle platoon. He and three other Marines supports convoy operations, perimeter security, and, the most time consuming, ensure a multitude of aircraft arrive and take off safely.
"We haven't experienced any attacks, but have heard some small arms fire nearby. Our [AH-1W Super] Cobras and [UH-1N] Hueys are enough to keep the enemy quiet," said Velazquez, and 2002 graduate of Miami Southside High School.
The Marines of the squadron's provisional rifle platoon are a select group from Cherry Point, N.C. and Beaufort, S.C. Prior to arriving in the Iraqi desert the team received training in a variety of weapons, tactics and security instruction. This small group believes in the fight and stands proud in their efforts.
"This is working," said, 23-year-old, Lance Cpl. Andre Booker in a simple statement. "We're helping the Iraqis. We have a lot of work to do because Americans are still dying here, but our attempts to minimize terrorism with security and stability have an affect," added the Huntsville, Ala., native and 2000 graduate of J.O. Johnson High School.
As aircraft approach this lonely desert road, secured by the Marines of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, the ground is in an urgent frenzy to support the arriving helicopters. The Marines providing security have been in position and have cordoned off the area to all traffic. [The safety of the landing is critical to mission success, and personnel not just on board, but also on the ground.]
Corporal Maurice Mincey, from Swainsboro, Ga., and noncommissioned officer in charge of security, is on his second deployment to this region. He's proud of what his section is accomplishing and enjoys his job in the provisional rifle platoon. He says his Marines work long hours, but the long hours are necessary to going home.
"I think [Operation Iraqi Freedom] is just," said the 22-year-old, and 2001 graduate of Swainsboro High School. "This conflict benefits the Iraqi people and their democracy. Freedom means a lot, and I know in my heart that these good people are happy to have us here, not only for themselves but for their children," Mincey added.
Mincey said that his job doesn't just come with the daily threat from the enemy. [On several occasions, he said, arriving aircraft will land in the wrong direction, at the wrong time, and in the wrong location.] Not to mention that he and his Marines are blasted with sand and other small debris during takeoffs and landings. But everyday, he says, is one day closer to going home, and this Marine knows he's part of a team supporting the Global War on Terrorism and bringing democracy and stability to this country.
"I have a great attitude," responded Mincey. "I'm part of a solid team who has a great work ethic. I'm excited about this operation and what it serves to accomplish."
"I miss home, but I'm glad I'm here to put my time in," said Lance Cpl. Lorenzo Oliver, 23, and Toledo, Ohio native. "We're doing something good. Many Marines join the Corps for this opportunity, and I'm fortunate to be a part of this."
Day or night the Marines who make up the security for this small aviation element stand ready. Not always on schedule, the hums of distant rotor aircraft arrive. The need for fuel or weapons, or to deliver cargo and personnel, pushes or pull aircraft to this part of the western Iraqi desert. The Marines of the provisional rifle platoon secure the road and transform it, in minutes, to a landing platform.
"Our security ensures the safety of all Marines," said Oliver. "The Iraqis need our help. We're not just fighting for them, but for all Americans by minimizing terrorist threats," added the 2004 Libbey High School graduate.
"[We] make it possible for our aircraft to land and take off. Just the sound of our helicopters overhead is sometimes enough to stop the insurgent attacks and keep the enemy running."