AL ASAD, Iraq - -- Some Marines are drawn to service by a strong military heritage, while others are drawn to it by a small unexplainable call to duty.
For Lance Cpl. Matt Aronson, a CH-46 crew chief with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 it seemed like joining the Corps was the way to begin his career. While attending Florida Atlantic University in 2002, Aronson felt he needed to do something more than just attend college and ease into a career.
“I just had this feeling I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” the 2002 graduate of Stoneman Douglas High School said. “I felt I needed to serve my country in some capacity.”
Not long after visiting the recruiter, Aronson was off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., in July 2003, with a contract to be a helicopter crew chief.
“All through boot camp and Marine Combat Training I didn’t exactly know what I was signed up for,” the Coral Springs, Fla., native, said. “All I knew was that I would be flying in helicopters.”
From start up to shut down, Aronson is responsible for what happens on the aircraft. From aiding the pilots with navigating the aircraft, to manning the crew served weapons on board the CH-46, the responsibilities of a crew chief are endless.
“We have to be the pilots’ eyes in the back and sides of the aircraft,” Aronson said. “It is our responsibility to paint a picture for the pilot of any potential hazards that we may come in contact with. We have to help the pilots, keep an eye on the aircraft and man the machine gun while scanning the area for any potential threat. Out here being an aerial gunner is second nature. It is probably our most important mission because that is the only way our aircraft has to defend itself.”
Since joining the Black Knights of HMM-264, Aronson has done many different things he may have never had the opportunity to do otherwise. From flying across the United States to escorting distinguished visitors throughout Iraq, the many different missions he has been a part of have given Aronson a deep appreciation for his job and place in life.
“I have flown from California to North Carolina and escorted the Commandant of the Marine Corps to different bases in Iraq,” Aronson said. “I get paid to have these different experiences in the air while others around the world pay big money to have the chance to fly.”
Since arriving in February, Aronson and the Black Knights have contributed to the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in many different capacities. From providing general support by transporting personnel to different bases, medical evacuation and vehicle checkpoint missions, the unit has performed every mission it prepared for.
“Coming here is kind of a culmination of all of our training,” Aronson said. “Being able to perform a variety of missions on a daily basis keeps everyone on their toes and ready for anything.”
With all of the training and preparation Aronson had before deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, nothing could prepare him for the mental strain fighting for freedom would have on him.
“With all of our training I knew what to expect work wise,” Aronson said. “But nothing can prepare you for the living conditions, stressful missions and long days. The hardest thing I deal with is the medical evacuation missions. Picking guys up that are injured on the ground and having to fly them back to the nearest hospital to save their limbs or in some cases their life can be a very stressful, but necessary mission. But, I can take on that burden and deal with the stress. I rather be here than have someone else in my family experiencing this.
“I joined the Marine Corps. I knew what I was doing,” he added. “When you join you’re stepping into history. This is what we do. We deploy, fight and accomplish the mission. That is what we have done for two centuries.”
Aronson and the rest of the Black Knights will continue flying through the skies of Iraq for a few more weeks as their tour here winds down. The Knights are keeping pace with the rest of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing while working together for a brighter Iraq.
*For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at email@example.com*