AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- During any fire fight between Marine ground forces and insurgents, the one thing Marines always appreciate is the familiar sound of the womping blades of the light attack helicopters providing close air support.
Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 'Scarface' is one of the HMLAs providing support to the Marine infantry units patrolling the Al Anbar Province of western Iraq.
All of the Marines of the squadron provide a vital role in their support responsibilities. Whether it’s a crew chief on the UH-1N Huey, or the air frames mechanic on the AH-1W Cobra, or the pilot, they are all equal in their contribution to mission success.
"We are split up into two 12 hour shifts. Each day we come in, get our brief ,and then man up the aircraft and make sure everything is good to go," explained Capt. Robert Weingart, an AH-1W Cobra pilot with HMLA-367 and a Franklin, Conn., native.
The Scarface squadron is steeped in combat history dating back to the Vietnam War. Their combat prowess is still shown today.
Aside from flying missions that are scheduled combat support missions the Marines and pilots of Scarface also provide unscheduled support such as casualty evacuation escorts and troops-in-contact missions. These missions provide the Marines of Scarface the ability to use all the skills they have been taught.
"While serving on a detachment deployed to Al Qaim, we actually got to deploy weapons on a troops-in-contact mission," stated Cpl. Sean Maine, a crew chief on the H-1N Hueys with HMLA-367. “When something like that happens, it really lets you know why you are doing the things you do out here."
Maine, a native of Waynesboro, Va., also spoke of the morale boost that one receives when telling his peers about the incident and how everything he had learned played a part in his reaction.
The Marines of Scarface also use a program called strip alert. This program keeps certain pilots on call during their shift to fly those missions that are not pre-scheduled. The crew chiefs and maintainers also share a large role for these events.
When your on strip, you support the guys like Cpl. Maine who are starting up the aircraft," said Lance Cpl. Joseph L. Yawn, an airframes mechanic with HMLA-367 and a Hazelhurst, Ga., native. "We troubleshoot the bird right on the flight line, so that if there is a problem, we can fix right then and get that bird in the air."
For many of the Marines in Scarface this deployment is not the first and they have seen several significant changes since their last tour.
"There have been some major changes, everything from the living conditions to the chow hall. We went from eating what we liked to call mystery meat to the food we have now," stated Yawn with a broad smile.
Flying thousands of missions over the last seven months has shown the maintenance ability of the squadrons support Marines.
Keeping the aircraft up and running has proven to be a testament to the abilities of the maintainers and crew chiefs of Scarface. Most of the aircraft is older than the people who fly them as well as those that work on them, according to Weingart.
Although their tour is coming to an end they, as well as the rest of Al Taqaddum Air Base, have to endure the occasional indirect fire attacks. As they prepare to turn over the reigns to HMLA-369. The Marines have a simple message to pass on.
"Don't drop your guard, they hadn't hit us in a couple of months and today they did,” said Yawn.