AL ASAD, Iraq --
The sounds of a helicopter’s rotor blades cutting through the air overhead is fairly common aboard Al Asad. That the crew’s mission is to support the War on Terror is obvious, but what Marines in those helicopters do once they are out of sight is often unknown to the casual observer on the ground.
For the members of the “Wolfpack” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, that mission is to transport Marines, supplies and equipment around the Al Anbar Province.
“We’re tasked with assault support for (II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward)),” said Lt. Col. Roger McFadden, the Wolfpack commanding officer. “It’s in the shape of passenger, cargo and external operations. We’re also responsible for (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel) missions. The majority of our tasking is to move cargo and personnel between the (Forward Operating Bases).”
In the three months that the Wolfpack has been in Iraq, the squadron has racked up approximately 1,600 flight hours. The Marines are also working on obtaining another impressive record – 65,000 Class Amishap free hours.
“The squadron has never had a mishap in its entire history, since 1984,” explained McFadden, a Cle Elum, Wash., native. “These guys are proud of the fact that they always fly safe aircraft. It’s because of safe maintenance.”
The CH-53E “Super Stallions” the Wolfpack flies along with other heavy helicopter squadrons are some of the more maintenance heavy aircraft in the Marine Corps, not because they are old but because of their size. For every one hour spent in the air, the maintenance
Marines put in 40 on the ground, according to Sgt. Maj. Brian Milton, the HMH-466 squadron sergeant major.
“If the birds don’t launch, the mission doesn’t go,” said Milton, a Murietta, Calif., native. “The Marines’ ability to fix the aircraft on a moments notice is the most important thing out here. We have a lot of dedicated Marines, and sometimes we have to tell them to go home. They’re hardworking and dedicated to what they do.”
Despite the long hours of work required to make sure the squadron accomplishes its mission, the Marines of the Wolfpack have adapted to the rigors of deployment.
“They’re handling it really well,” said McFadden. “We’re 90 days into it and they are keeping up with the work and keeping aircraft available.”
Like most units in Iraq, the Marines of HMH-466 have a wide variety of experience. While some Marines are on their third or fourth, others are on their first deployment. The squadron’s strength comes from the help the more experienced Marines provide to the junior Marines.
“It’s never two new Marines working out there together,” said Cpl. Billy C. Roth, a crew chief with the Wolfpack, and a Quitman, Texas, native. “It’s one experienced Marine working with a new one. We train while we work. We’re always training and always working hard.”
That is exactly what the senior leaders of HMH-466 have come to expect of their Marines - that not only are they professionals in their job, but consummate Marines as well, according to Milton.
“The big thing we push upon them is this,” explained Milton. “They may not be out in the trenches, but their trench is the flightline, and they are out there supporting the mission.”