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3rd MAW provides air support to infantry along Syrian border

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005121115217
Story by Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (Jan 21, 2005) -- At a base along the Syrian border, Marines with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are going above and beyond to support the infantry in keeping Iraq safe.

Located about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, Camp Al Qa’im serves at the main base for 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The many missions 1/7 conducts on the ground requires frequent support from the air.

“We’re here solely to provide aviation and general support to the battalion,” said Lt. Col. Jeff A. Moore, air boss, 3rd MAW, Al Qa’im detachment. “Everything from convoy escorts to reconnaissance missions, we want to make sure the infantry has the support it needs.”

Operating on the small base since August of last year, Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 16, with its AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N “Hueys,” provide flexible and fast assistance to any of the ground unit’s needs.

“We’ll run numerous missions every day,” said Moore, a 41-year-old native of Stone Mountain, Ga. “Having a base in such a strategic position also enables us to operate as a hub for larger missions taking place in the area.”

Larger missions require more manpower, and the once small detachment of Marines on Al Qa’im has grown to become a sizable forward operating base for 3rd MAW.

Building a base needed for this kind of job is no easy task. Different wing units put forth countless hours of work to ensure the location was both helicopter ready and safe.

“(Marine Wing Support Squadron 472) has the largest presence of all the wing units here on base,” said Maj. Robert J. Callahan, officer-in-charge, MWSS-472, Marine Wing Support Group 37, Al Qa’im detachment. “We have built up this base a lot in the few months we’ve been here.”

MWSS-472, a reserve squadron based out of Willow Grove, Pa., has played an invaluable role in creating a solid base of operations by erecting more than a dozen sea huts, numerous tents, and several helicopter pads. Callahan, a reserve Marine, works as an Engineer Manager with Verizon Communications back at home.

“In a way we’re on the edge of the empire, so we don’t have a lot of resources,” said the 35-year-old native of Taunton, Mass. “Even so, we were able to build something from nothing. Now, we have a little city.”

Also on Al Qa’im are Marines from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Air Control Group 38, and a detachment of Army soldiers from the 507th Medical Company.

“Everyone working together has really made good things happen out here,” said Moore. “If it wasn’t for the teamwork and dedication within the units, we wouldn’t be able to get nearly the amount of work done that we do.”

Because of their remote location, Marines from Al Qa’im are rotated monthly to 3rd MAW’s main base of operations on Al Asad.

“Everyone out here is working double the normal amount,” said Gunnery Sgt. Viriato B. Sena, a 48-year-old reserve Marine from Bellingham, Mass., and staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, MWSS-472, Al Qa’im detachment.

“To keep them fresh and motivated, we switch everybody out monthly,” explained Sena, who worked as a policeman at Boston College prior to being activated. “I’m one of the few that stay, just so that we can keep some consistency here.”

A limited number of Marines have the opportunity to visit different bases, so the spots for Al Qa’im fill up fast.

“Everyone rushes to get on the list to come out here,” said Callahan. “They all know how rewarding this job is and want to be part of the action. It’s also a good opportunity to let them see more than just one base.”

Even though the majority of their labor is done on the ground, their work is having a significant impact on missions conducted throughout the area of operations.

“The missions we conduct serve as a strong protecting force for the Marines fighting on the ground,” said Moore. “Some of these guys working out here may never know the number of lives saved because of their hard work.”


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