AL ASAD, Iraq --
There is a new sheriff patrolling the Iraqi skies, but service members on the ground will still see the same level of professional support from the air.
The “Red Dogs” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 arrived in Iraq a month ago. Since then, they have assumed the role of the helicopter close air support section from Al Asad.
“What we expect is that we will seamlessly integrate, just like (HMLA-269) before us and (HMLA-167) before them,” said Lt. Col. Paul Ozmer, the executive officer for the Red Dogs. “We anticipate that we will fill a hole for the Marine Corps and no one will know the difference.”
The Marines of HMLA-773 are tasked with providing close air support to the Marines and Soldiers outside the wire with their UH-1N “Hueys” and AH-1W “Super Cobras,” according to Ozmer.
“If you looked at the doctrinal mission for the Marine light attack helicopter squadron, it is to provide fire support, recon, and command and control,” explained Ozmer, a Kennesaw, Ga., native. “What we are doing in actuality is providing (Medical Evacuation) escort for the Army’s Dust Off contingent, and we provide a couple of sections, two aircraft at a time, to go out and support the ground forces. So the missions we’ve flown, in the few weeks since we assumed responsibility from HMLA-269, have included escort, close air support for the grunts on the ground, and Medevac.”
The Red Dogs deployed to Al Asad to give a break to the two light attack squadrons that normally rotate through the air base. But there is something different about HMLA-773 that distinguishes it from the other squadrons that have called Al Asad home, according to Sgt. Maj. Ronnie T. Napier, the HMLA-773 sergeant major.
“The squadron itself is a reserve squadron, but it’s made of mostly active duty personnel, so its sort of a different animal,” said Napier, a Macon, Ga., native. “We came out here to give ‘269 and ‘167 a break, because their rotation was seven months deployed and five months home, and out of that five months they were probably doing three months of training getting ready to come back over. So they threw us into the mix, and we had five different squadrons come together to make one so we could get over here and give them some relief.”
The only difference between the Red Dogs and an active duty squadron is the fact that they have a few more lieutenant colonels and master sergeants than an active duty squadron. Having a mix of active and reserve Marines actually gives the squadron an advantage, according to Napier.
“Most of the Marines have been to Afghanistan twice, and some of the Marines have been here with ‘269 and ‘167,” said Napier. “Like I said it’s a reserve squadron with active and reserve Marines, and they’ve all flown or worked with other squadrons in the rotation. As far as operationally, we’re good to go, they know what they’re doing. They’ll do good things.”
Having those experienced veterans around gives those members of the Red Dogs with less experience someone to turn to when they have a question, according to Lance Cpl. John Minter, an airframes mechanic with the Red Dogs.
“As far as a personal standpoint, I’m learning a lot out here and that’s all this is really about,” said Minter, a Douglasville, Ga., native. “The active guys have been through this before, they’re good teachers. Any question I’ve ever asked they’ve had the answer. It’s actually a great environment.”
Active or reserve, the Marines of HMLA-773 are just happy that they get the chance to contribute to the Corps’ mission in Iraq.
“Most of the reservists who came out here volunteered,” said Napier. “For a lot of them this is their second or third, and sometimes fourth, deployment. That goes for the reservists as well as the active duty. They are all looking forward to it. They all stepped up to the plate and volunteered when they didn’t have to.”