AL QAIM, Iraq -- William Wallace knows a thing or two about doing things right the first time.
While attending Eastern Kentucky University, he worked as a cook in an Australian steakhouse. Any time a disgruntled customer sent a steak back he’d spend more time near the grill cooking that order to perfection.
A few years have gone by and Wallace is now a first lieutenant and UH-1N Huey pilot assigned to Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, Detachment Al Qaim. His new customers: Marines on the battlefield. And while there are no grills here, the heat hasn’t gone away.
Recently, he took part in Operation Matador, a seven-day offensive aimed at eliminating insurgents and foreign fighters from the northwestern Al Anbar province. Wallace, a 25-year-old first lieutenant (the youngest pilot in the squadron), took the bull by the horns.
He and fellow ‘Gunrunners’ of HML/A-269 provided close air support and sent a large number of rounds down range, helping Marines from Regimental Combat Team 2 secure objectives in and around the Euphrates River cities of Karabilah, Ramana and Ubaydi, near the Syrian border.
During the planning stages of the operation Wallace pitched in by conducting armed reconnaissance missions.
Originally from La Grange, Ky., Wallace was commissioned a Marine officer after graduating from college in 2001. His father served in the Army, but he decided on the Corps because it stood out from the other services.
“I knew I wanted to be in the military,” he said. “I visited all of the recruiters in high school and it seemed like the Marines had more pride in the organization and what they’re doing.”
He reported to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., for flight school in January 2003. After several months of intense training he was designated a Naval aviator in May 2004 and joined his current unit in November of the same year.
“My father was a pilot and my three brothers are all pilots,” he said. “I caught the bug when I was in high school.”
Wallace chose to fly the Huey, a helicopter that dates back to the Vietnam War, because of its versatility to fly.
“The Huey can be used for anything from close air support, command and control, troop insertions and extractions, rappelling operations, just about anything,” said Wallace. “Since I’ve been in Iraq I’ve flown more than 100 hours.”
He didn’t even spend three weeks with the squadron before he was packing up and on the go. In early December he traveled to Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Ariz., for Exercise Desert Talon and two months later he was in Iraq.
Senior instructor pilots help him continue training as much as possible in between missions, but sometimes the training is tied in to real world operations.
“The learning curve is a lot steeper here,” said Wallace. “You have to learn a lot quicker because a lot of people depend on you to get it right the first time.”
An under or overcooked steak is the last thing that crosses his mind. Though he does miss the grill. “I miss barbecuing and hanging out with my family and friends.”
Wallace, who’s influenced one of his brothers to become a Marine officer as well, wants to better himself as an officer and a pilot. He takes pride in being here and understands the importance of his role in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Being a pilot here is a really valuable part to the squadron,” he said. “The squadron brings a lot to the Marine Corps by supporting the ground guys and the sooner they get the mission accomplished the sooner we go home. Right now there’s no other thing I’d rather do.”