AL ASAD, Iraq -- As the commandos came aboard, the stern looks on their faces, hardened from months of battling insurgents, turned to smiles as they greeted Marines operating the KC-130J Hercules.
Under the cover of darkness, Marines from Marine Aerial Refueler and Transport Squadron 252 flew a company of Iraqi Special Operation Forces out of Al Asad, Iraq.
“We are happy to be on this bird with so many successful missions accomplished,” said the ISF company commander. “We’re glad the bird was here and on time. I think that happened because the Marines are in charge. The Marines have done an outstanding job getting us food, water, ammunition and making sure everything was taken care of.”
Proving the Marine Corps etho “no better friend, no worse enemy,” the Marines from VMGR-252 said they were excited to help and support the Iraqis fighting for a free and democratic country for their people.
“We were honored to fly with the Iraqi military,” said Maj. Michael Sage, the operations officer with VMGR-252, a native of Alberta, Canada. “Everything went great, we were ahead of schedule. The Iraqis were very efficient, you could tell by talking with them and watching them that this was new and exciting to them.”
The Iraqi Special Operation Forces Company has been together for over two years. They primarily go on direct-action missions into the heart of the battle. There, they are able to get the names of insurgents, find insurgent safe houses and generate a large amount of active intelligence on the enemy.
“The people we catch lead to bigger things,” said the unit advisor. “We have served in Fallujah, Ramadi, Najaf, Al Qaim and Haditha. Our morale is good, when we lose guys, we bounce back and learn from the mistakes that have gotten people killed.”
The company is more important to these men than what part of Iraq they come from or what sect of Islam they follow, said the company commander.
“The special forces are comprised of Iraqis from all over the country,” said the unit advisor. “For most of them, it’s very dangerous to serve. It takes more courage for them to serve than their U.S. counterparts because if the insurgents find out who they are, they will kill their families. The insurgents are like a gang or mafia, if they can’t kill you, they will kill the defenseless.”
Sergeant Mark Chapman, a native of Whitefall, N.Y., who is a loadmaster with VMGR-252 and flew with the Iraqis, said he identified with the commandos because they are doing the same thing he does, trying to defend Iraq, so they can live in a country with the same freedoms and liberties which he enjoys in the United States.
“They fight so their families will have a safe place to sleep at night,” said Chapman. “I’m glad to help out. The least we can do is our part to help them out.”
The unit advisor said the Iraqi citizens are glad to see these Iraqi commandos patrolling their cities and defending their country.
“Probably everyone here had someone in their family killed by the old regime,” said the company commander. “They are all glad the Americans are here to help train and equip them. They are all happy to go and make a new, unified country.”
The company commander said his goal, and the goal of his men, is to live in freedom and democracy that is opposite from Saddam’s tyrannical regime.
“We hope the Iraqis and Americans can drive all of the bad guys from our country,” said the company commander. “We want to make it a good country and a stable one.”