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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing starts long flight home

AL ASAD, Iraq - The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing recently completed its longest deployment of its 62-year history.

The Miramar, Calif.-based command arrived here at the former Iraqi air base to support Operation Iraqi Freedom II in February, 2004. During their 13 month deployment, more than 13,000 service members and more than 200 aircraft supported Iraqi and U.S. forces.

Third MAW aircraft flew close air support and convoy support missions. Ground-support units of 3rd MAW escorted convoys and kept aircraft well maintained and ready to fly.

The command was based primarily at Al Asad, located about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad, and at numerous other forward-operating bases across Al Anbar province in western Iraq. Third MAW participated in major combat action over Fallujah in April, 2004, in An Najaf in August, 2004 and then again in Fallujah during Operation Al Fajr, or "The Dawn" in November, 2004.

"Our Marines and sailors faced some of the toughest fighting and highest operational tempo since the war began, and they met the challenge," said Maj. Gen. Keith Stalder, commanding general, 3rd MAW. "Their stamina, dedication and esprit is a testament to this generation of Marines."

During the second battle to destroy insurgents in Fallujah, U.S. Marine and Multi-National Force aircraft supported Iraqi and U.S. forces on the ground with aerial reconnaissance, precision air strikes and casualty evacuation missions.

During a two-week span, Multi-National Force aircraft, comprised mostly of jets and helicopters from 3rd MAW, dropped or launched more than 500 precision-guided munitions against terrorist targets in the city.

The airspace above Fallujah was controlled by 3rd MAW, which meant managing as many as 25 combat aircraft at a time, aloft over the urban battlefield. In this dense urban environment of nine square miles, and more than 10,000 friendly troops in action, there were no incidents of air-to-ground friendly fire.

Third MAW aircraft not only supported combat operations but was also integral in the success of the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30, 2005. Third MAW helicopters and transport planes ferried more than 1,500 Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq poll workers to voting sites throughout Al Anbar province, enabling the nation to hold its first free election in more than 50 years.

"Our Marines performed superbly as they set the stage for the elections to occur and ensured that the Iraqis of Al Anbar province had the opportunity to exercise their vote," said Stalder. "The Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen of the Wing also worked around the clock to keep combat aircraft in the air, so we could keep the insurgents on their heels during the election."

Active-duty forces comprised most of the deployed 3rd MAW, but Reserve units played an integral part, deploying as a whole unit or as individual augmentees. During the first rotation of forces from February to September of 2004, Reserve forces comprised approximately 10 percent of 3rd MAW, but during the second rotation, from September 2004 to March 2005, Reserve participation shot up to 20 percent.

"Our Reserve Marines and other reserve service members filled a vital role in complementing the active-duty Marines," said Stalder. "They seamlessly integrated and performed how you would expect Marines would.outstanding."

Not all Marines will be returning with the 3rd MAW; eight Marines died while serving during the deployment and 222 were injured.

The deployment in statistics:

40 million pounds of cargo transported

More than 100,000 passengers ferried across the country

More than 75,000 flight hours flown

Driven more than 400,000 miles for various convoy operations that carried over 61 million pounds of cargo.

Provided security for more than 5,400 metric tons of unexploded ordnance.

Disposed of more than 2 million pounds of enemy ordnance

More than 1,000 security patrols conducted

Pumped in excess of 25.5 million gallons of fuel to support combat operations throughout the theater.

Executed more than 200,000 air traffic operations at the various airfields and forward operating bases.

Third Marine Aircraft Wing transferred the aviation authority and responsibility for western Iraq on March 1 to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is based out of Cherry Point, N.C.

For more information or to cover 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's homecoming, contact Maj. Curtis Hill at or 1stLt. Al Eskalis at, or call at (858) 577-6000.

Release #050301h

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