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AL TAQADDUM, Iraq?Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Bykowetz, Flight Line Intelligence Center Chief, for Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 775, is supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom in Al Taqaddum, Iraq. Bykowetz first joined the Marine Corps after high school, in 1968, and served in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged in 1972, and then served off and on in the Marine Corps Reserves. In 1990 he applied for the active reserves and was accepted in 1991. Since then he has remained competitive as a career designated active duty reservist. Bykowetz will soon reach 20 years of active service and plans to retire in 2007 with 22 active duty years.

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

From Vietnam to Iraq: Motor City Marine continues to serve

21 Jul 2005 | Gunnery Sgt. Shannon Arledge

In 1968 as the Vietnam War raged, Nicholas Bykowetz was finishing his senior year of high school. He pondered what to do next. Located inside the Michigan Unemployment Compensation Commission was a small Marine Corps recruiting station. The Detroit native was about to make a life altering decision.Born in March 1950, Bykowetz, of Allen Park, Mich., spent his younger years in Detroit where he would one day join the Marine Corps. In June 1968, just two weeks after high school graduation, this young lad of 18 years was standing before drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.After boot camp Bykowetz knew the high chances of receiving deployment orders to Vietnam. The Vietnam War was already in its seventh year and there was no sign of ending. In December 1968, the young Marine reported to the company headquarters of the 5th Marine Regiment at An Hoa Combat Base, I Corps, Republic of South Vietnam. “I’m not one to tell war stories per se,” said Bykowetz. “We took our share of ground attacks, and lots of rocket and mortar attacks from the North Vietnamese. I remember losing our ammo dump to an enemy sapper attack in February 1969,” he continued, “the First Sergeant and I almost got our heads shot off by machine gun fire during the attack.”He left Vietnam in December 1969 and served honorably as an interrogator before his discharge in 1972 at the rank of sergeant. After 10 years of working multiple jobs in metropolitan Detroit and surrounding areas, Bykowetz still had a yearning for the Corps. In 1982 he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in Detroit and was approved for a two year contract. Although he wasn’t given any of his previous earned time-in-grade, Sgt. Bykowetz did retain his rank. When his two year contract was due to expire, and as a result of family and personal issues, he chose to leave the Corps in November 1984. Bykowetz then found himself working for a city outside of Detroit. After five years as a civilian, and having worked through the family issues, Bykowetz still wanted to serve the Corps. The year was 1989, and the now 39-year-old Bykowetz wanted to give the Corps another shot. Having reached Marine Corps age limits he needed to secure a special waiver to gain another enlistment.“I was already 39-years-old,” said Bykowetz. “I was told that individuals over 35, and with broken service, can expedite a positive answer by writing a letter to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps for permission to re-enter the service. So that’s what I did. I wrote a fairly long letter with at least seven enclosures to it. I was approved for one year.”Sergeant Bykowetz had one year to gain a new occupational specialty since his new reserve unit, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, located along the Detroit River, did not rate any interrogators. Through sacrifice and assistance from other Marines he became an intelligence specialist and was allowed to reenlist in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve for six years.By the end of 1990 his unit was mobilized for nine months and shipped overseas to support Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. During this deployment, and after the liberation of Kuwait, his unit spent time in Okinawa, Japan, and the Republic of the Philippines. Since his six year reenlistment into the reserves in 1990, Bykowetz had been applying for active service, then known as the Full-Time Support Program, now known as the Active Reserve Program, and was accepted in October 1991 to a post in New Orleans, La., with the intelligence department of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. Since then he has remained competitive as a career-designated active duty reservist. He’s recently been promoted to the rank of gunnery sergeant and is possibly the oldest enlisted Marine and Vietnam veteran in the active ranks. Bykowetz now serves his country, once again, on foreign soil, a veteran of active service in the Marine Corps during three wars.Since 2002 Bykowetz has served with Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 775 from Marine Corps Air Facility, Camp Pendleton and is currently assigned to the Flight Line Intelligence Center in Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. He supervises the unit’s intelligence section as it reports on and tracks enemy actions and threats to the squadron’s aviation operations.Bykowetz has witnessed many changes in the Corps over the years … the Marine Corps has changed the camouflage uniform pattern three times since he signed up in 1968. One thing has held true and that’s Marine spirit.“The Marines of today are made of the same stuff our forefathers had,” said the Gunny. “They endure great hardships, they blow off steam much the same ways, they even find some of the same things hilariously funny. They destroy efficiently, show remarkable restraint regularly, are hard as nails one minute, then, moments later, show the most admirable compassion,” he continued, “but I would say they are a lot smarter than the lot from my youth.”According to Lance Cpl. Tony Nguyen, intelligence analyst who has been in the Marine Corps for one year, and has spent the past four months with HML/A-775 says the Gunny means business and is often boisterous with his opinions.“I'm lucky to be under his guidance and leadership,” said Nguyen. “He's very solid in the work area, which is all we do out here, and he makes sure he's heard whenever there's something to be done. When I first heard he was from the Vietnam days I knew he was going to bring a lot of experience, and that has been true.”According to Capt. Samuel C. Gazzo, intelligence officer for HML/A-775, Bykowetz has seen a lot over the last 30 plus years. But, despite his age, he can always be counted on to get the job done. “Although he doesn't talk too much about his age or time in the Marine Corps, everyone knows he's the one that always gets a piece of cake at the ball,” laughed Gazzo. “Gunny B. is what you think of when you think of a crusty old [staff noncommissioned officer]. He always has something to say about everything. Sometimes, we laugh for days after he one of his comments about things we see everyday that make no sense. I have no idea where he comes up with his material, but it is better than anything any drill instructor could conceive. I can always rely on Gunny B. to do what he is told with enthusiasm. He relates exceptionally well with the young Marines. He really enjoys imparting life lessons to everyone. Gunny B. has much respect among all of his Marines, especially because of his background -- rifleman in Vietnam. I can always count on Gunny to accomplish the mission.” The gunnery sergeant will soon reach 20 years of active service and plans to retire in 2007 with 22 active duty years. He carries memories most active duty Marines today do not have, even the Marines who have 20 or more years of service. From his early days up to now, he is impressed with the changes he’s witnessed.“We didn’t have entire Marine units parading down streets with people cheering them during Vietnam,” he said. “There wasn’t required enlisted professional military education, we didn’t have computers and modern communications devices, and the support structures and services now available to Marines and their families everywhere wasn’t active. This is a real big deal, especially for first termers.”Gunnery Sgt. Bykowetz admits that over the years he has slowed down a little, but he says, “I still get a charge out of out performing a much younger Marine in anything.”
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