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HMM-764 provides 'Combat Bus' in Iraq

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/14/2004

Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

AL ASAD, Iraq (May 14, 2004) -- Day or night, rain or shine, sandstorms, wind, small arms fire and rockets, it doesn't matter what obstacles are in the way, the Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, accomplish their mission of moving troops and supplies to the furthest reaches of Western Iraq.

HMM-764 is a reserve CH-46E Sea Knight squadron based out of Edwards Air Force Base, Texas. The squadron is part of Marine Aircraft Group 46, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing but is in Iraq attached to MAG-16, augmenting the 3rd MAW deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

While here, the "phrog" squadron, nicknamed the "Moonlighters," is one of the helicopter squadrons tasked with transporting troops and cargo throughout the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force area of responsibility, which is the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

Because of their mission, a few of the Moonlighters have started jokingly referring to their helicopters as the "Combat Bus," according to Sgt. Scott E. Daingerfield, aerial observer, HMM-764.

"We do troop lifts and small cargo movements," the Netcong, N.J., native said. "Because of that, everyone makes the joke of calling us a 'combat bus.' It's not as glamorous as (other missions), but we try to have a blast doing whatever we do."

Although some of the Marines claim that their job here is not as "sexy" as some of group's other squadrons, they still get satisfaction from it, according to Sgt. Jared S. Watson, Sea Knight crew chief, HMM-764.

"It's not a bad job at all," the East St. Louis native said. "It doesn't look glamorous because you're not in the fight, shooting (at the bad guys). However, you feel good when you get to haul supplies, like food and water, that people really need."

For now, the 24-year-old sergeant believes the missions are good for the squadron.

"They are good missions for us because it is our first time being deployed (as a squadron)," he noted. "A select few (Marines) have (deployed), but for the most part, not many have."

The lack of combat experience may have seemed to be an obstacle when the squadron arrived in theater, but those problems have long since been overcome, stated Daingerfield.

"We had a rough start because most of the squadron had never deployed," the 25-year-old Marine claimed. "We're falling into the groove, and it'll just get better (with time)."

The reserve Marines' performance is evident despite their lack of combat experience before this deployment and other problems that are popping up, noted Watson.

"There seems to be a lot of maintenance and that is all part of our job," he realized. "I think we're doing really well and the Marines are learning very quickly."

Along with maintenance, the aircrew is responsible for the internal configuration of seats, which determines the amount of cargo and passengers the helicopter can carry. The crew is usually kept on their toes and running around, because of last minute additions on their flights, he noted.

"It can be a pain in the butt sometimes because you get last minute changes of cargo," he noted. "(Someone) will add a pallet with 500-pounds of gear and you'll be carrying five people."

Daingerfield was quick to add that their hard work does not go unnoticed.

"I have never had a bad experience transporting people," the Marine said of his past six-years in the Marine Corps. "(Our passengers) will pat us on the back and tell us we're doing a good job and we're just dropping them off."

"They are going out and getting in (gunfights)," he added, "and they'll thank us, which makes us feel good."

The passengers aren't the only people to give thanks to the Marines, Watson added.

"Sometimes I think we miss out on our (importance) out here," he said. "So our (commanding officer) and sergeant major are constantly reminding us of that."

Regardless of whether or not they get praise for their work, it doesn't matter to most of the Marines, claimed Staff Sgt. David M. Schnack, quality assurance Marine and Sea Knight crew chief, HMM-764.

"It just feels good being out here after being in the Reserves for so long," the Los Angeles native said. "It's a chance to do my job, which is why I stayed in, to do my job.

"It's not glamorous, but we get people from here to there," Schnack concluded. "(Some people) don't see our importance. I mean there's never going to be a movie like 'Top Gun' made on 46's, but it's still an important job."

With no feature motion picture debut in the future for the "Combat Bus" aircrews, they continue to do their job, Schnack said, which is to keep moving throughout the day or night, rain or shine....

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