AL ASAD, Iraq -- On Sept. 11, 2001, Lance Cpl. James Connolly was a senior at Walter Panas High School in Westchester, N.Y. While the horrible events of that day took place only 40 minutes away he felt helpless as he watched the news on television.
His father, a member of the New York City Police Department, was at ground zero as the terror unfolded and his brother, also a member of the NYPD and a Coast Guard reservist was called to guard a nearby nuclear power plant.
Feeling angered and annoyed, Connolly waited until he graduated from school and was able to join the Marine Corps in 2002 to do his part.
“I wanted a challenge,” said Connolly, a runway crewman with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271. “Marines are the ones who fight so that is what I wanted to do. Joining the Marine Corps was a way for me to do my part for the events that happened on 9-11.”
Joining the Marine Corps was not what his family had in mind for the recent high school graduate. His parents tried to convince him to think about a different service, if any service at all.
“When I first told them I wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps they were shocked,” Connolly said. “But since I left for boot camp they have been really supportive of my decision.”
After attending aircraft recovery school in Pensacola, Fla., Connolly began working as the Marine wing liaison Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, giving him the unique opportunity to work under an Air Force command for seven months.
“It was a great opportunity,” Connolly said. “I was able to work with different types of gear that I would have not ever had the chance to use and see how another service operates.”
After serving in Kadena and four months aboard Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan, Connolly reported to the Work Horses of MWSS-271 in June 2004 located in Cherry Point, N.C.
“I wanted to join the squadron because I knew they were preparing to deploy to Iraq,” Connolly said. “I had been sitting in Japan for a year and wanted to be a part of what was going on here. Now I get to directly contribute to the war effort which is what I’ve wanted since I signed up.”
With the expeditionary airfield section of MWSS-271, Connolly works 24-hour shifts ensuring the arresting gear used here is ready for use at anytime. In addition to the gear maintenance, the EAF team makes small repairs to the runway as needed.
“We spend our day working on the airfield’s lighting and preparing our gear for the next arrestment from incoming aircraft,” said Connolly.
Since arriving in Iraq, Connolly has proven himself to be a welcome asset to his crew. With his initiative and positive attitude he only makes things easier on his superiors.
“He is the best Marine I have had work under me,” said Cpl. Joshua Mull, Connolly’s crew leader. “He makes my job easier knowing I can give him a task and it will get accomplished without thinking twice about it.”
“Being here is a great experience for me,” Connolly said. “The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing is help make a change in the lives of the Iraqi people and being able to play a small role in that success make me proud of what I’m doing here.”