AL ASAD, Iraq -- “We live here. You just visit.”
That is what is written below the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 logo painted outside Al Asad’s Tactical Air Control Center as a testament to their status here.
The “Warriors” of HML/A-167 and their fellow East Coast squadron, the “Gunrunners” of HML/A-269 share a deployment cycle to Al Asad with only five months between tours.
“There’s only two East Coast HML/As,” explained Sgt. Maj. Mark Pauley, the Warriors’ sergeant major. “So we just rotate in and out. For some Marines this is their fourth time here. Actually, I have some that are on their fifth deployment.”
The squadrons’ responsibilities in Iraq are to provide close air support to Marines on the ground and provide escorts for medical evacuation missions, according to Lt. Col. Scott Jensen, the Gunrunners’ commanding officer.
The East Coast squadrons are responsible for Al Asad and the surrounding area, while the West Coast squadrons are responsible for Al Taqaddum, according to Lt. Col. Lawrence Killmeier, the Warriors’ commanding officer.
“The West Coast’s operational tempo is very high also, but they have three squadrons that they are rotating through TQ,” said Killmeier. “So a squadron comes over here and does their seven months and goes back. They have to do the same training, but they have 10 months to a year to get ready for it. Because we only have two squadrons, there’s no one else in the rotation. It just goes between ‘269 and ‘167.”
The Warriors turned over mission responsibility to the Gunrunners for the fourth time, March 11.
“We’ve pretty much got the transition down to a science,” said Killmeier, a Knoxville, Tenn., native. “It’s fairly seamless. Last fall when we took the mission, ten minutes afterwards we had our first (medical evacuation). I imagine it was transparent to the ground forces they were supporting. The only thing different to them was the call signs.”
During the last seven months, the Warriors have racked up an impressive record, with 5,500 flight hours and 4,200 sorties, according to Maj. Scott Clifton, the Warriors’ operations officer.
Now that the Gunrunners have stepped up to the plate, they are looking to do just as well as their fellow Marines, according to Jensen, a Salmon, Idaho, native.
“I expect them to do the basics, and to do the basics well.” said Jensen. “That means technically in their skill field and (Military Occupational Specialty), but also as a Marine. If we all accomplish those things then the big missions get taken care of.”
Both Jensen and Killmeier believe their Marines are handling the rapid deployments well.
“Marines are Marines, and they are going to do anything you ask them to do,” said Jensen. “And they are going to do it well. That’s our tradition, going back centuries really. There’s no doubt, without any fluff, to say that the Marines are doing really well. They know their business because they have to know their business, but the cost comes in separation from the family.”
The Marines credit those they left in the rear with helping them get through the constant deployments, according to Cpl. Melinda Sims, a Gunrunners’ intelligence analyst on her third deployment to Iraq.
“Having the support of my family and friends helps a lot, whether I’m back home or in Iraq,” said Sims, a Panama City, Fla., native. “Just supporting me, sending me things, keeping my spirits up.”
The Marines also have the support of their fellow Gunrunners and Warriors to help get through the deployments, according to Sgt. Maj. Terry Stanford, the HML/A-269 sergeant major.
“I can sum it up in one word, ‘together’,” said Stanford, a Penn, Pa., native. “We’re doing it together and we are handling it quite well.”
It’s a testament to the determination and focus of the Marines that both squadrons have no problem getting their Marines to re-enlist, according to Jensen.
“It points to their patriotism and their willingness to serve,” said Jensen. “They joined the Marine Corps to be Marine and come in to a combat zone and do what they’re doing. We meet and way exceed our retention goals each year because Marines want to step in.