CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- The afternoon sun poured down all of its 100 degrees on the reservists with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775 at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, while they maintained their AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters.
Since augmenting Marine Aircraft Group 16 in theater earlier this year, the squadron has been heavily engaged supporting Marine infantry units with close air support in Fallujah and Ar Ramadi, as well as conducting security escorts for convoys.
“(The helicopters) are intimidation,” said Cpl. Matthew A. Wright, a native of Niles, Mich., who has seen the helicopters in action from the ground up while on convoys with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group motor transportation. “If I was the enemy on the ground, they would definitely put the fear in me.”
Behind each of these missions, whether CAS or convoy escorts, the Marines on the ground who maintain the helicopters have set the stage for the pilots and crew chiefs to perform.
“I can’t say enough good things about them,” said Maj. Erik Douglas, a Cobra pilot with the squadron from Oceanside, Calif. “They continue to perform remarkably in austere conditions.”
As Cobras return from missions, the Marines run backwards facing the gunship to direct the pilots into their parking spaces.
“We have to be quick on our feet,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher L. Eiben, a plane captain with the squadron from Huntington Beach, Calif. “We’ve got a lot of things going on at the same time, planes coming in, going out and refueling – you’ve got to stay sharp.”
Eiben explained his job as a plane captain simply means he’s in charge of keeping the “bird” ready to fly. He certifies to the pilots, before they take-off, that the helo is mission capable.
“The job has got its ups and downs,” said Eiben, “but when you see the birds come back in one piece, it makes it all worthwhile.”
“We wouldn’t be out here without them,” said Douglas, who is a biology teacher at Oceanside High School as a civilian. “We wouldn’t be able to complete our mission.”
Eiben added the pilots and the maintenance Marines have to have a good relationship with each other - faith and trust is paramount between the two aspects of a squadron.
“We’ve all started off on the ground learning how the planes operate and how to fix them,” said Staff Sgt. Mark J. Covill, a crew chief with the squadron. “After you work on them so long, it’s only natural to want to get up in one.”
This is exactly what Pfc. Daniel S. Boatright aspires to accomplish from his experiences as a mechanic, but on the civilian side. The 2003 Martin Luther King Jr. High School graduate from Riverside, Calif., wants to be a pilot.
And what better way to get started than by learning how a plane operates, said Boatright, who’s completing his first deployment in the Corps.
“I’ve never even been on a drill,” he said. “I joined the unit, and within two weeks I was leaving for Iraq to do my new job.”
Boatright plans on attending California Baptist University in Riverside when he returns home with his squadron after they complete their one-year activation in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Because of their exceptional work ethic,” Douglas said, “the aircrafts continually make the flight schedule.”