AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marines and Sailors from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 recently received a very personal message of appreciation.
Brigadier Gen. R. David Papak, the commanding general of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, and Sgt. Maj. Jimmy D. Cummings, the Wing sergeant major, visited the Wild Geese of HMM-774, Jan. 18, at Al Asad, Iraq. The visit was much more than just a trip to inspect the front lines, Papak said.
"I came to see my Marines," Papak said. "I don't want these guys out here having all this fun by themselves."
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 resupply and detainee transfers to insertions and casualty evacuations.
During the visit, Papak attended a squadron formation, held a question and answer session with the squadron, participated in awarding combat aircrew wings, dined with Marines and flew a mission with the squadron's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Leo Kilgore. Kilgore, a Yukon, Okla., native, said flying a mission with senior leadership members is positive for everyone involved.
"What I find is that they really like getting out and flying with the aircrew and seeing the area," Kilgore said. "I got the opportunity to spend time with the CG and accomplish the mission. He was very excited to get to fly in Iraq and he really enjoyed the opportunity to see and do what we do over here."
Kilgore said connecting leadership with the daily tasks accomplished on a unit level can be beneficial for both sides.
"I think it is important for our senior leadership to participate in some of our tasks," Kilgore said. "It gives them an appreciation for what is required to do our jobs. The crew and I had a great time picking his brain on several subjects during the flight."
Corporal Matthew Sender, an intelligence specialist and Marietta, Ga., native, briefed Papak on current intelligence information prior to his flight. Sender said Papak is the type of leader Marines enjoy being around because they can tell he cares about their welfare.
"I've been around him before and I really like him," Sender said. "We're the only reserve squadron out here, so he came all this way just to see us. That means a lot to people and really shows that he cares."
Master Gunnery Sgt. Cordie W. Glover Jr., Wild Goose maintenance chief and a Norfolk, Va., native, was onboard for Papak's flight. He said Papak delivered more than just a morale boost to the squadron during his visit.
"It is always good for Marines to hear from senior leadership how much they are respected and revered," Glover said. "(Papak) understands and appreciates the job his Marines are doing and telling them personally means a lot to the Marines. These are hard times and the sacrifices made by all Marines and especially the reserves component are incomputable."
However, the visit wasn't just a pat on the back for the squadron's younger members. Kilgore said everyone in the squadron took pride in hosting the Wing leaders.
"It means a lot," Kilgore said. "We are one of the last of the flying squadrons in Marine Forces Reserve to be activated and deployed in combat in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Making the trip to Iraq to see us means a great deal to the squadron and myself. Personally, I want to show off the squadron. I know that HMM-774 is a great group of warfighters and he has seen us in action."
Papak also used the opportunity to recognize members of the squadron who show their support stateside.
"He was especially thankful for the unconditional support the families and friends back home have shown us," Kilgore said. "He emphasized that the families have the toughest jobs right now and he made sure the Marines and Sailors knew that he appreciated everything that the entire HMM-774 family was doing."
Glover said the visit was a good reminder of the impact and role of reserve Marines, no matter where or when.
"The Marine Reserves have and continue to play a vital part in the Global War on Terrorism," Glover said. "The Marine Reserves are part of a team. No team is made up of one person or part. It takes everyone working together to win at anything. The Marines Reserves are proud to be part of a winning team, the United States Marine Corps."