Marine aviator reflects on his role in Operation Iraqi Freedom

4 May 2003 | Army Master Sgt. Robert Cargie

Major Dana, a Marine reservist, flew a C-130 transport plane for the 3rd Marine Air Wing in Iraq.  During the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom he and his crew brought needed supplies forward to the Marines who were fighting the enemy.

"I felt that I was a direct part of the operation," the major said.  "When items like water, ammunition and food were needed quickly we were employed to fairy that stuff up to where it was needed most. It was very fulfilling"

Dana logged hundreds of hours "behind the stick" of the C-130 during the Marines' movement north towards Baghdad.  Now, after the hostilities have diminished, he is still behind the "stick". His job remains the same but the supplies he transports are very different.

While planning for combat operations in Iraq the Department of Defense needed to consider numerous contingencies.  This included humanitarian supply assistance for the Iraqi people.  In the event of a breakdown in food and water distribution throughout the country, the military was prepared to provide these supplies in the fastest way possible. This included flying in supplies by air.

The 3rd Marine Air Wing was to have a major role in that operation.  It turned out the need for food and water was limited but the need for medical and other essential supplies became critical. Working with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center, the air wing transports thousands of pounds of supplies to cities and towns throughout southern Iraq on a weekly basis.

Lt. Col. Christopher Buescher of Pleasanton, Ca., is the HACC's air operations officer.  He is a Marine aviator and understands the importance of air transport capabilities.

"It's a matter of time.  We will work with non-governmental organizations to get critical or perishable supplies to where they are needed," Buescher said.  "What could take one or two days to transport by truck we can get there by air in one to two hours."

As an example, Buescher related an incident where insulin was critically needed in the town of An Numimanayah.  The HACC located an NGO that had the medicine available and Buescher coordinated air transport with the 3rd Marine Air Wing.  Within 24 hours of the identified need, the medicine was delivered to health care professionals to distribute to those in need.

"The NGO's welcome the fact we can get supplies to where they're needed, quickly," Buescher said.  "It allows them to compress their timelines and create an almost instant impact on any critical situation."

Dana said that if his involvement has a direct impact on any of the people involved in the operation - Marines or Iraqis - he has made a "total contribution".

He uses the very diverse missions of one particular C-130 crew to show what he
meant.  According to Dana the crew flew the aircraft that held bodies of the first Marines killed in action in Iraq.  A number of weeks later that same crew flew the seven prisoners of war discovered in Iraq to Kuwait. 

"The different levels of emotion the crew experienced during those two missions can only be imagined," Dana said looking downward.  "I know how I would feel."

The major said that what he is doing now and what he did earlier couldn't compare to what that crew experienced but his experiences were opposites, as well.

"At one point I was bringing ammunition to Al-Kut for use in the war," Dana said,
"Now I'm bringing medical supplies that might be used to treat the very same people we used the ammo against."