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Warhorses saddle up for Iraq

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 2/22/2004

Story by Sgt. Danny L. Patterson

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan -- For the second time within a year, the Marines of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-465, currently on the Unit Deployment Program to Okinawa from MCAS Miramar, are getting ready to deploy to Iraq sometime in this month.

From Jan. to July 2003, the Marines of HMH-465 supported Operation Iraqi Freedom. Shortly after their return, they began preparing to come to Okinawa on UDP, only to receive notice that they would soon be going back to Iraq.

During their preparation, the squadron faced many obstacles that had to be overcome prior to their departure. One of the most significant things they faced was with personnel changes. Nearly one-third of the squadron's Marines left due to permanent-change-of-station or end-of-service. With Marines leaving, many new Marines checked in and among the group were 15 new pilots.

According to Lt. Col. Pete Zoretic, commanding officer for HMH-465, the new Marines needed to be trained. To bring everyone up to speed, the squadron used the "crawl, walk, run" method of teaching and had the Marines who participated in OIF share their experiences.

"We started in September with two combined arms exercises, a weapons tactics course, three tactical exercises, followed by mountain training," the Columbus, Ohio native said. "Once we arrived in Okinawa, we focused on night training because many missions we flew during OIF took place during the night. Everyone needs to be ready for any mission at any time."

Another factor added into the equation was losing three detachments of Marines and equipment to the 11th, 15th and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units.

In Okinawa, the squadron not only focused on training and qualifying Marines, but also diligently supported various missions tasked by III Marine Expeditionary Force.

A few weeks before the squadron stepped on Air Force planes headed for Iraq with their equipment, the maintenance crew played a key role in making sure the squadron was ready to deploy. They meticulously tested the planes to make sure they were up to standards.

In addition to testing, the maintenance crew had another tasktaking the helicopters apart so they could be stowed on cargo planes. To do this, the helicopters were flown from here to Kadena Air Base, where crews worked 12-hour days until all eight of the helicopters were disassembled.

According to Sgt. Chad M. McCracken, airframes and hydraulic mechanic for HMH-465, the maintenance personnel were very motivated to get the helicopters disassembled. Each day most Marines had to be told to stop working to get a night's rest.

This round in Iraq holds many tasks for the squadron as they will join their parent command, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and provide heavy lift transport of vital equipment and personnel, which in turn provides stabilization and security of Iraq.

Now that their bags are packed, Zoretic said he is very confident that the squadron is ready to go for the second time.

"I am confident because I know that every Marine is prepared for any task," Zoretic said. "We trained for the worst and we are better prepared because of it."

Although they are unsure of how long their second stay in Iraq will be, they expect to remain for nearly seven months.

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