AL TAQADDUM, Iraq --
In the overwhelming heat of the Iraqi summer, most people would want to spend their time indoors. Marines often do not have that luxury, as their mission - whether it is outside the wire or out on the flightline - invariably takes them out into the heat.
In the sweltering heat of Al Taqaddum, the “Gunfighters” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 are out taking the fight to the enemy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The Marines are doing a great job,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert Ledferd, the Gunfighters’ sergeant major. “They’re hanging in with the heat, and they’re motivated. We haven’t missed a mission yet.”
With their UH-1N “Hueys” and AH-1W “Super Cobras” the Gunfighters can tackle a wide range of tasks.
“We have a couple missions,” said Lt. Col. William Dunn, the HMLA-369 commanding officer. “Our biggest is close air support. We do armed recon, we perform aerial escort, and we have also done a handful of Aero Scout missions. The most important thing we do is provide close air support when needed to the ground guys. That’s the prime objective of an HMLA.”
Since the Gunfighters arrived at Taqaddum in April, they have logged in over 5,000 hours. The squadron’s high operational tempo in the desert outpaces the tempo they have back home, according to Dunn.
“We are flying four times as much as we do back home,” explained Dunn, a Woodbridge, Va., native. “Every week we fly a month’s worth of missions here.”
The fast paced schedule of deployment keeps the Marines on their toes, but it also helps the deployment go by faster, according to Lance Cpl. Matthew McAlister, an avionics electrician with the Gunfighters.
“We stay pretty busy,” said McAllister, a Wheelersburg, Ohio, native. “It seems like every time we try and go back into the shop, we have to go back out on the flightline and work on a bird.”
The near constant work of the Marines on the flightline has been the key to the Gunfighters success in Iraq, according to Dunn.
“Every mission that we do, every time we take off, we consider it a vital mission; we may have to shoot, we may have to pull some Marine or Soldier out, or we may have to engage the enemy,” said Dunn. “So every time we launch, the birds have to be as perfect as possible. The ordnance systems have to work 100 percent, the avionics have to work 100 percent. There’s no room for Marines to relax. They have to do their job as best as they possibly can every single day. And we have not had one single problem, so they are performing at an unbelievable level right now.”
However, the Gunfighters are not just focused on the mission outside the wire, they are focused on making themselves better Marines as well. The squadron started a lance corporal leadership course, is constantly sending Marines to Corporals’ Course, and has a goal for every Marine to complete at least two Marine Corps Institute courses while here, according to Ledferd, a Springfield, Ill., native.
“We’re trying to give them some balance,” explained Ledferd. “It’s not always about just the mission of maintaining the birds, although that is most important. We’re trying to keep the mindset of thinking about what it is to be a Marine.”
The commitment to the mission and to making themselves better Marines is what makes the men and women of HMLA-369 some of the best, according to Ledferd.
“The Gunfighters rule,” said Ledferd. “We’re the best. Of course I’m biased, but our Marines really do some good stuff. Their morale and dedication to the mission is amazing.”