AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
Since 2003, units upon units of Marines have traversed the ocean and landed on runways in Iraq. Most Marines will never fully understand the process that gets them to and fro, much less the time and effort that goes into getting necessary gear in and around the country to which they are deployed.
Embarking thousands of pounds of supplies and countless Marines can often appear to be a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, when it comes to moving gear or personnel to, from and around Iraq, the II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward) embark office aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, makes this tricky logistical limbo look like a cake walk.
“If anything moves, then we’re involved with it, no matter what it is,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dawn Sprowl, the II MHG (Fwd) embark officer. “Basically, we’re in charge of getting [personnel] and cargo from point A to point B, and even sometimes to point C, in a timely manner.”
This small work section, comprised of only a handful of Marines, has accomplished just that, moving more than 6,000 personnel and almost a million pounds of cargo thus far in their deployment.
Gear and personnel cannot simply be put onto an aircraft or convoy and moved wherever, whenever. Piles of paperwork must be completed for each shipment, as well as all sorts of inspections, pallets built for cargo, working parties gathered to help sort through and pack gear, personnel notified of movement dates and times, and many more tasks. But everything must be done without error in order to accomplish the mission.
“You have to plan for every minute,” stressed Sgt. Joseph Wenzel, the embark chief. “If you miss one deadline, it can cost the Marine Corps thousands of dollars.”
Lance Cpl. Isla Person, an embark clerk, also understands the importance of meeting all the requirements, and she explained their safety net system.
“We bug each other … ‘Hey, are you sure you’re checking this; hey, are you sure you’re checking that’ … That’s everybody’s headache. We have to really, pretty much bug each other to make sure everything gets done.”
Person didn’t learn this skill in the school for her military occupational specialty. Originally, she was a field radio operator. Throughout their time in Iraq, only three Marines, Sprowl and Wenzel and Cpl. Christina Watson, who has already redeployed to the U.S., have an MOS specific to their embark job. The rest are Marines from various jobs, including a couple of motor transport operators, a mechanic and a landing support specialist.
“It’s one of those things that once you start doing it, it becomes so much easier,” said Person. “Three weeks ago, I didn’t know how to do this, but now I’m sitting here telling people that have this job as their primary MOS how to fix something.”
But throwing together a small hodgepodge of Marines isn’t the biggest or most momentous challenge the embark office faces. They are in charge of getting all remaining II MEF (Fwd) personnel and gear out of Iraq as the Marines prepare to leave. They have been clearing out gear since they first landed aboard Al Asad in February, and they will be some of the last Marines that stay to finish the job.
Their hard work has helped lead to a smooth transition as the Marines of II MEF (Fwd) start the journey home with their gear in tow.
“We’re pushing everybody else out before we head out,” said Sprowl. “The Marines have labeled all their containers, so when they go home they can pick up their gear from the embark Marines in the rear. Then, that’ll be it. We’ll get everybody and everything back safe and sound.”