AL ASAD, Iraq - -- As the Black Knights of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 return home, HMM-266, the Fighting Griffins, have taken the helm and are supporting the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in the Al Anbar province.
The Fighting Griffins arrived Aug. 10 and has worked side-by-side with their predecessors for the past 10 days. The Black Knights have allowed the Fighting Griffins a chance to familiarize themselves with the region before turning over responsibility Aug. 20.
“HMM-264 has been showing us what it takes to provide support for the entire II Marine Expeditionary Force area of operation,” said Lt. Col. Joe George, the Fighting Griffins’ commanding officer and Norfolk, Va., native. “They have taught us the nuances of working with our intermediate level support and maintaining these aircraft in this environment.”
Caring for the aircraft is a challenge for any unit serving in Iraq’s harsh conditions. The Fighting Griffins are using aircraft that have been in country for more than a year and need to continue a high rate of readiness throughout their tenure in Iraq.
“We are the fourth squadron to use these aircraft. Keeping every bird structurally sound and combat ready will be our biggest challenge,” said Cpl. Jonathan Trahan, an airframes mechanic with HMM-266 and Houma, La., native. “It is my job to ensure the reliability of the outer skin of the aircraft. The wear and tear in these conditions is a challenge, but isn’t anything we’re not used to.”
This is the first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for the Fighting Griffins, but a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan last year equipped them for the challenges they will face here.
“The living conditions here are better than what we had in Afghanistan,” Trahan said. “But the work will be about the same for the maintenance Marines.”
Ever since leaving Afghanistan, the Fighting Griffins have been preparing for their deployment to Iraq. With exercises and work-ups, the Griffins are ready for this deployment.
“As soon as we got on the boat when leaving Afghanistan we began considering our deployment to Iraq,” George said. “We knew about this while we were still supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Although very prepared, the Griffins still suffered the usual attrition of Marines that units go through after returning from deployments. They now have a large number of fresh Marines in the squadron.
“We have had a lot of Marines leave and new ones join our ranks. Our last pilot to join the squadron reported on July 21 and was in Iraq with the rest of us 20 days later,” George said. “The reason we have been able to successfully prepare our squadron for this evolution is a testament to the staff noncommissioned officers and experienced aircrew. They took the lead in ensuring everyone was ready for the mission at hand.” “I give most of the credit to our Marines who have been in the Marine Corps for three years or so,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Leonard, the flightline division chief and Badin, N.C., native. “What they may lack in knowledge and experience they make up for in motivation and excitement for the mission. They have been key to training our junior Marines fresh out of school.”
The Fighting Griffins are a large part of the Marine Corps’ rotary wing assault support assets in Al Anbar province. The squadron plans to continue the tradition of excellence those before them have created, doing all they can to support the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and making brighter days for the people of Iraq.
*For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at firstname.lastname@example.org*