AL ASAD, Iraq -- Lieutenant Col. John G. McGonagle, a Simsbury, Conn., native, passed the colors and command of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 to Lt. Col. Leo Kilgore, a Yukon, Okla., native, during a change of command ceremony, Dec. 18, at Al Asad, Iraq.
The Wild Goose, a reserve CH-46E Sea Knight squadron based at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va., is deployed to western Iraq for the second time in less than two years. The squadron provides transportation support for personnel and equipment with missions ranging from re-supply and detainee transfers to insertions and casualty evacuations.
McGonagle assumed command of HMM-774 in December 2003. The squadron was activated during July 2004 to prepare for its twin tours in Iraq. The Marines and Sailors in the squadron are a mixture of active duty service members, active Reserves and inactive reserves who were brought together for the deployments.
“During my career, I’ve seen serious issues arise between different components of services,” McGonagle said. “But, I could not have asked for a better team.”
The squadron came together and was flying combat support missions within two months of its activation. Teamwork and unity from within the squadron were vitally important for the success of the deployment, McGonagle said.
“I had concerns about how quickly the reserve Marines would be able to activate and come together because there would be a very steep learning curve,” McGonagle said. “The unit responded with a tremendous performance. The tactical and mechanical practices of the pilots and Marines have been outstanding. The reserve Marines in this squadron are truly the definition of an American citizen-soldier.”
McGonagle will report to 4th Marine Aircraft Wing for his next assignment. To close his final remarks to the Marines and Sailors, McGonagle said it was an extreme pleasure to serve with the squadron and had high aspirations for the future of the Wild Geese with Kilgore at the helm.
“I’m sure the squadron will only get better under (Kilgore’s) able leadership,” McGonagle said. “I know they will complete this deployment in outstanding fashion.”
Kilgore made the move from operations officer to commanding officer after eight years with the squadron. During the ceremony, his message to the squadron was to stay the course.
“My goals are to continue the mission in the best way possible, get the Marines and Sailors home safe and healthy and look forward to the future from there,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore’s experience in the squadron should lead to a seamless transition, according to Sgt. Maj. Steven M. Golder, the squadron sergeant major and a Baltimore native.
“He’s been a big part of the squadron for some time now, so I think he’ll just blend right into the CO’s role,” Golder said.
Kilgore said he was honored to be chosen to lead the Wild Geese and assuming command during a combat deployment made the event that much more special.
“Everything’s bigger in combat, so I guess this falls under that category,” Kilgore said. “I cannot think of a better group to lead. It is really an honor to have this opportunity and I just have to thank the Marine Corps leadership for selecting me for it.”
With the future of the squadron in his hands, Kilgore said focusing on the mission at hand will still be the top priority.
“We will look forward to going home, demobilizing and deactivating,” Kilgore said. “But, the most important thing is maintaining focus on what needs to be done here.”