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Saving lives on the battlefield: Air support begins with ordnance Marines

US Marine Corps News

8/7/2011
By Pfc. Sean Dennison, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Thousands of Marines and Afghan and coalition troops rely on 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) for close air support. Here at Kandahar Airfield, that responsibility is carried on the wings of Marine Attack Squadron 513’s AV-8B Harriers.

Hundreds of Marines work 24 hours a day at the Harrier squadron to ensure an attack jet is ready whenever it’s needed.

But the ordnance, the bombs and bullets that make a Marine Corps Harrier a force to be feared, comes from a handful of Marines just down the road from the attack squadron’s hangar.

Cpl. Philip Truitt, a munitions supervisor with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 40, surveys the bombs just assembled by his team of Marines. A group of GBU-54s, 500 pounds apiece, stand lined in a row, ready to be used in the fight.

MALS-40, a unit which only fully exists on deployment, is a unique amalgamation of Marine Corps aviation logistics assets. Marines from squadrons across the Marine Corps serve under the MALS-40 banner in Afghanistan.

With this geographic mix of Marines comes a mix in backgrounds, and MALS-40 troops come to Afghanistan with both fixed- and rotary-wing experience.

“In our MOS [military occupational specialty], it’s not so much of an issue because we all get the same basic training,” explained Gunnery Sgt. Lesonly Stanley, the MALS-40 ordnance chief and Myrtle Beach, S.C., native. “The goal is having the correctly qualified people to complete the mission.”

So some Marines even find themselves developing a new skill set while deployed.

“I’m learning stuff I’ve never learned before,” said Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Wiley, a MALS-40 ordnance systems technician and Havelock, N.C., native, deployed from MALS-13 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. “It’s being an all-around ordnanceman instead of focusing on one job, which to me is better.”

The squadron’s aviation ordnance Marines assemble of munitions, maintain equipment necessary to utilize the munitions, and track distribution and use.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Blair, the MALS-40 ordnance officer for Kandahar and a Marietta, Ohio, native, lists objectives such as coordinating safety areas and ensuring the safe and timely transportation of munitions as challenges the ordnance Marines must overcome on a daily basis.

“If we don’t do everything right, that missile doesn’t work as advertised,” explained Stanley.

So the Marines double-, triple- and even quadruple-check their work before sending munitions to the squadrons who will employ them. This includes VMA-513, as well as Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, which uses flares for battlefield illumination missions.

“The end state is that these Marines know that they’re saving lives on the battlefield,” said Blair.

Blair began his Marine Corps career as a field radio operator, providing communications for infantry units. As someone who has personally benefitted from close air support, Blair said he knows firsthand what the presence of a bomb-carrying Harrier can do for the morale of a Marine under fire.

“There are some people out here trying to hurt us, and now we’re supporting the means to protect everybody,” he added.

Though the Marines do not often see the results of their efforts, they are aware of the effect it has on the ground troops.

“We all come from different MALS, different environments, and we all came out here and started working together since day one,” said Stanley. “I can’t put into words how many Marines’ lives were saved.”

As the squadron approaches the midway point of its yearlong deployment, a new detachment of MALS-40 Marines prepares to change out with the current ordnance system technicians.

Gunnery Sgt. Shawn DiMauro, who will soon replace Stanley as the MALS-40 ordnance chief, said she expects the level of support the squadron provides to stay consistent, even with the change in personnel.

“Basically do what they’ve been doing,” said DiMauro of her goal as the ordnance chief. “That means doing our job proficiently, and working together – as the ordnance family, the Marine family, the deployed family.”



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