AL ASAD, Iraq -- Like firefighters responding to an alarm, the Marines suddenly stopped whatever they were doing and rushed to the scene. The Marines then load, arm and sent the AH-1W Super Cobra back into battle.
Once troops on ground make contact with an enemy, the ordnancemen of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 load and arm two hellfire missiles, two TOW missiles, 400 semi armor piercing, high explosive incendiary rounds and seven high explosive rockets on one of the Cobras.
"It's a total adrenaline rush," said Lance Cpl. Chester Pickering, an ordnanceman with HMLA-167 and native of Loveland, Ohio. "The job is hot and intense. I know I have to move fast. The fact that Marines on the ground need our direct and continuous support keeps all of us moving and performing at top speeds."
The ordnancemen received a call Sept. 28, that troops on the ground were in contact with the enemy. Within minutes after receiving the call, HMLA-167’s Cobras were on the scene.
There, the Cobra pilots, with the aid of active intelligence on the ground, were able to hunt down and kill five insurgents.
“Every kill is one more person who can’t get on our planes and attack the American people,” said Staff Sgt. Raymond D. Lopez Jr., the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of aviation ordnance at HMLA-167. “Even if it’s only one killed, it could be a thousand saved.”
Lopez said he and his Marines move as fast as they can because they know lives depend on them.
“The ordnance Marines have gone above and beyond,” said the Hollister, Calif., native. “On a regular day (our job) can be repetitive, then, on the drop of a dime, it goes completely crazy and we are loading, deloading and arming for three hours nonstop. Even though we have a lot of new blood, they have adapted and overcame every situation we have faced.”
The Cobras are constantly flying. They provide armed escorts for convoys and Army medical evacuation helicopters, ensuring wounded warriors are able to safely get medical attention.
“I’ve seen the ordnancemen in dead sprint, with flaks and kelvars on, going to arm their Cobras,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Seitz, an armorer with HMLA-167, and native of Pittsburg, Penn. “For the first seven months I was stationed at Al Asad, I was an armorer with Marine Aircraft Group 26, and the job was a little mundane. I’m in charge of accountability and security on the weapons here, and there has always been something going on. Hearing about all the missions the Cobras go on and watching the crazy ordnance Marines load and arm the weapons is exciting.”
One of the most exhilarating tasks the ordnance Marines undertake is called hot loading. During hot loading, there is still electricity flowing through the helicopter and its rotors are still turning.
“You’re loading weapons that can go right back out,” said Pickering. “It’s dangerous. If, at any moment, something malfunctions in the aircraft or there is a faulty weapons system, you can become toast.”
The ordnancemen often have to work at forward arming and reloading posts close to the battle, and have been targeted by the insurgent’s mortar fire.
“You can tell we are doing our jobs because there are less attacks on the base,” said Lopez. “Last year, I was a firsthand witness when one of our fellow ordnance men was killed by mortar fire. I am here for him, my family and country.”
Although the ordnancemen may be at an air base, they believe their mission is one of the more intense jobs, and know that correctly loading the Cobras, in an expedient manner, makes a direct impact on the battlefield.
“The Wing and the infantry are two different entities,” said Lopez. “When we get together, we create a massive force. There is always a segregation of ground and Wing, but when (it) hits the fan, we’re a brotherhood and we are there for each other. We may not know each other’s names, but we know they will be there for us and they know we will be there for them.”