AL ASAD --
The task of transporting service members and cargo around part of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province recently transferred from the hands of a Marine squadron to an Army task force.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 handed the reins to the Army’s Task Force Dragon in a transfer of authority ceremony here, Aug. 10.
The Soldiers of Task Force Dragon, stationed at Ft. Wainwright, Alaska, are ready to step into the shoes left by the Marines, according to Army Maj. James Dimon, the commanding officer of the task force.
“We’re happy to be out of training in Kuwait and up here doing our mission,” said Dimon, an Axtell, Neb., native. “The Soldiers are eager to be doing their mission.
The squadron’s mission, and now the task force’s mission, in Iraq is to provide general support; transporting personnel, cargo and supplies around the Al Anbar Province.
“Our mission here in Iraq was general support,” said Sgt. Maj. Leon Thornton, the HMM-262 sergeant major. “We did a little bit of everything. We flew a couple of (casualty evacuation) missions, and we did it well. We didn’t miss a beat, and we never dropped a mission no matter what it was. We answered the call on every mission that came down.”
The “Flying Tigers” of HMM-262 fly CH-46 “Sea Knights” while the Soldiers of Task Force Dragon fly CH-47D “Chinooks.” The different aircraft allows Task Force Dragon to not only accomplish the general support mission, but to take on missions that a CH-46 would not, according to Dimon.
“We’re a bigger aircraft,” explained Dimon. “In the Army we’re a heavy lift aircraft, and we carry about two to three times what a ‘46 can. We can carry more than they can, so we’ll have a slightly different mission, but for the most part we’re going to be doing general support.”
The seven-month deployment that HMM-262 is preparing to return from was the first time the squadron deployed to Iraq. It was also their first combat deployment since Vietnam.
Until they deployed to Iraq in late January, the squadron regularly deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit for a few months at a time. This deployment came with an operational tempo the Flying Tigers have not seen in operations with the MEU or at home, according to Lt. Col. Michael Farrell, the HMM-262 commanding officer.
“For at least five months out of this deployment the operational tempo, flight hour-wise and sortie-wise, we were flying about four times what we normally fly,” explained Farrell, a Longmeadow, Mass., native. “In a good month back home we usually fly 350 hours, and that’s a good solid month for us. Out here we were running, for a couple of months, over 1,100 flight hours and 1,000 sorties. When we got out here the deployment operational tempo was something we had never seen before.”
Despite being their first combat deployment and working at a tempo they have never seen before, the Marines of HMM-262 rose to the occasion and performed admirably, according to Thornton.
“I think the Marines themselves handled the deployment excellently,” said Thornton, a Warrenton, N.C., native. “Everybody came here charged up and ready to perform, and they did just that. There was no test that they did not meet. When the days got long and the stress levels went up, the Marines did as Marines do – they tighten their boot blouses and continue to press forward.”
The Soldiers of Task Force Dragon are slated to be at Al Taqaddum for 15 months. Their time in Iraq will provide a welcome break in the deployment cycle for the Marine squadrons that would normally take their place, according to Dimon.
The Flying Tigers welcomed their replacements with open arms. Both Farrell and Dimon say the transition from squadron to task force has been smooth.
“It’s going very well,” said Dimon. “The squadron chain of command and their Marines have been very helpful in making sure we get everything we need. It’s been pretty smooth.”