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White Knights return to Miramar

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 8/11/2003

Story by Sgt. John Sayas

(August 8, 2003) -- By looking at his watch, Capt. Andrew C. Gonzalez, training officer, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165, couldn't really tell exactly when he left the Kuwaiti desert. What he did know was he had arrived in a place he would rather not have to leave again.

"It's all very surreal. We were in Kuwait yesterday, actually today, getting sand blasted in the desert and now we are here," said the Long Beach native after returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom. "It's great to be home."

Approximately 137 Marines of HMM-165, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, arrived at Hangar 4 here Aug. 1 after being deployed Jan. 17 in support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The squadron operated their CH-46's during its seven-month deployment supporting I Marine Expeditionary Force and other coalition forces in a variety of missions to include medical evacuations and logistical support while serving in Kuwait and Iraq. The most publicized operation the squadron participated in was the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

"The Marines were ready to do their job," said Maj. Michael G. McCoy, executive officer, HMM-165 and Kansas City, Mo., native. "They did a really good job.... Guys knew what we had to do, were ready to go do it and knew they would be coming home eventually."

After seven months of being in the desert, many could not wait another minute to get a hold of loved ones back at home once the plane landed. For Seaman Chad Artesi, a Dallas native, 45 minutes was too long to wait before he would be able to see his family, so he called his mother from the plane as she waited for his arrival.

"I tried to use (the phone in the airplane) when we first got into the air, but I couldn't figure out how it worked," explained Artesi, corpsman, HMM-165.

He eventually figured out how to use the phone. It was surprising for his mother, Tammie, to receive a call from her son who was due to land at any moment, but a relief for the family nonetheless after several months of watching hours of news reports on the war.

"The news has been helpful, but in some ways it's scary to watch," said his grandmother LaVonne Purdy. "I sometimes wished I didn't watch it and other times I was glad I did."

Artesi joined the Navy in the summer of 2001 to serve in the medical field. To him it seemed like a crazy thing to do at the time, but has since realized it was the best thing he has ever done.

"I love it," he said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I thought one day I would be asking myself why am I doing this, but I don't regret it now."

The family has agreed with his decision and supported him and his fellow service members every step of the way.

"We are proud of all them," LaVonne said.

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