AL ASAD, Iraq -- Remaining true to their motto, “Putting grunts in their place since 1958,” Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764 is back in Iraq for a second time in two years supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A reserve squadron based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., ‘Moonlight’ was activated in January 2004 and deployed here a month later supporting the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing till September.
Since their return to Al Asad in March, the squadron has been moving personnel and equipment throughout the Al Anbar province in support of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).
“When we came back it felt like we had never left,” said Lt. Col. Jacques Naviaux II, HMM-764 commanding officer and native of La Jolla, Calif. “Our mission is pretty much the same as it was last year. We look at it as if this is our tenth month in country.”
Naviaux, a pilot for Delta Air Lines “when I’m not a warfighter,” said the squadron flew 550 hours in April and called it a dramatic increase compared to the average of 100 hours a month they fly in California.
“We’re a lot busier here,” said Lance Cpl. Nick Bredehoft, an airframes mechanic and aerial observer with the squadron. “We fly six birds a day every day and in California we only fly a couple of times a week.”
The elevated amount of flight hours indicates the maintenance conducted to keep the aircraft ready to go at a moment’s notice has increased as well. A total of 22 hours of maintenance are conducted on the CH-46E Sea Knight for every hour it is flown.
“We’re always working,” added Bredehoft, a native of Dallas. “We have to make sure we always have a certain amount of birds ready to fly and that they meet the requirements for the mission.”
Sgt. Brett Baumer, the computers and networks chief and an aerial observer with the squadron said the maintenance conducted on the helicopters daily helps the unit maintain top quality aircraft. “That obviously consumes a lot of time but extends the longevity of the aircraft,” said the Benicia, Calif., native who left his job as a network engineer for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco to deploy.
“Everybody is putting in a tremendous effort,” said Naviaux. “The Marines keeping the aircraft flying are working around the clock and they do a tremendous job. I have to give a lot of credit to these guys, the last CH-46s were built in 1972 and we don’t have any of those, the aircraft we have are older than most of the Marines working on them.”
According to Naviaux, most of the pilots in the squadron are reservists whose regular jobs involve flying, whether it is for a commercial airline, a defense agency or corporate aviation.
“We’ve all been around for a while,” he said. “Our average pilot has more than 2,000 hours of flight time and more than 3,000 hours of civilian flight time.”
Police officers, schoolteachers, managers and a large number of college students make up most of the enlisted Marines in the unit and Naviaux said they are all proud to be here serving their country.
“All of our Marines feel like this is an important job,” he said. “They’re out here doing something that in the long run will provide better security for the United States.”
- For more information about the Marines reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at email@example.com -