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MAG-16 repositions forces to support Vigilant Resolve

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 4/10/2004

Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

AL TAQADDUM AIR BASE, Iraq (April 9, 2004) -- Marine Aircraft Group 16 recently moved elements of its Marine Light Attack Squadron 167 in support of Operation Vigilant Resolve, which began early this month.

The move occurred April 5-6, and flight operations for the squadron kicked off as soon as boots and skids were on the deck.

A small contingent of aviation maintenance Marines, aircrews and helicopters was sent to the Sunni Triangle area to bolster forces already in place there conducting missions in the city of Fallujah.

HMLA-167's part of the operation will be the same as always, claimed Lt. Col. Christopher M. Clayton, detachment commander and squadron executive officer, HMLA-167.

"We fly hueys and cobras in support of any of our various missions," he said. "These include convoy escort, casualty evacuation, armed reconnaissance and rotary wing close air support to ground troops."

When the pilots and crews arrived, they received a brief on what they were expected to do, explained Capt. Samuel L. Meyer, day section leader and AH-1W Cobra pilot, HMLA-167.

"We received the ground scheme of maneuver and were told that we would be assisting HMLA-775," said the Garner, N.C., native. "We were told that we'd be doing anything necessary to support the mission."

Meyer explained that the aircrews received only general information on the operation itself because objectives would change on an hourly basis.

Maj. Charles D. Stout, operations officer and Cobra pilot, HMLA-167, added that the changes to mission objectives come as a result of a variable that always exists in combat.

"The operation itself has phases," the Spiro, Olka., native claimed. "We have a good idea of what will happen each day. Of course, the enemy has a vote in that."

Stout explained that the squadron is maintaining an alert status that allows them to be very responsive to the needs of Marines in the fight on the ground.

"We are on Strip Alert status," he revealed. "We are launched on the needs of the ground combat element (of the Marine Expeditionary Force). Their call goes out and we launch. It's not a lot of preplanned stuff."

U.S. forces have already shut down the entrances to the city of Fallujah and clashes between Marines and anti-coalition forces have started heating up over the last couple of days.

Operation Vigilant Resolve will deal with the anti-coalition forces that have risen up in the Iraqi city, claimed Stout.

"The city of Fallujah is a hot-bed of activity as proven by the events of March 29," he said. "It has been a thorn in the side of the coalition and the national leadership decided it was time to act."

He stated that HMLA-167 would by no means have an easy time performing their tasks throughout the region.

"The urban environment and insurgency warfare makes this more difficult," Stout explained. "We're not fighting a conventional war."

Meyer added that the objective of the operation is to secure the city Fallujah. He found out for himself on April 6, that this mission has not yet been accomplished.

"I was providing close air support to the Marines in Fallujah when I received a (rocket-propelled grenade) blast to the main rotor head," he stated.

The Cobra pilot was able to make it back to his temporary base and landed the helicopter successfully before any of the systems gave out.

Not fazed by the close call, the pilot claimed that these events are to be expected during the operation.

"These are typical problems encountered in an urban environment while providing close air support," noted Meyer.

Clayton asserted that this resolve will help the Marines, Sailors, soldiers and airmen win in the end.

"Our success rests on the determination of the pilots and aircrew," he said. "It will also be due to the superhuman efforts of our maintenance crews."

The statement came after the maintenance crew repaired the damaged helicopter and had it in the air conducting tests within a 12-hour period.

Clayton said he hopes to bring every Marine home from this operation, but the mission is first and foremost in his mind at this point.

"While my goal is to bring everyone home, there are inherent risks with what we do," he stated. "We want to fully support the Marines on the ground. Each Marine knows why they are here."

Meyer agreed and stated that he has one reason for being here, that not even enemy fire will prevent him or his fellow pilots from accomplishing.

"Our mission is to support (the ground Marines)," he concluded. "My sole existence is to support the Marine on the ground and do whatever he needs me to do to keep him alive."

The pilots of HMLA-167 are currently performing missions in support of Operation Vigilant Resolve.



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