Qalat Sikar Airbase
Qalat Sikar Airbase is located approximately 243 kilometers Southeast of Baghdad, and about 21 kilometers East of the town of Qalat Sikar. The airbase is served by a 9,700 foot long runway. There are at least 8 hardened aircraft shelters visiable in the 1995 CIB imagery.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, from Camp Lejeune, NC, was at at Camp Basilone in Iraq by mid-April 2003. A civil affairs group escorted several journalists to Qal-at Sukkar, in hopes of making a big story. The group of journalists left the convoy, flying out of Camp Basilone in search of a new story. Qal'at Sukkar is a small town that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.
Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone was born in 1916 in Buffalo, New York, son of Salvatore and Dora Basilone, one of 10 children. On 28 September 2003 marchers made their way down Somerset Street in Raritan Borough during the 22nd annual John Basilone Memorial Parade. The event honored Basilone, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the borough's pride and joy. At the age of 18, John Basilone enlisted in the United States Army, principally seeing garrison service in the Philippines. After his honorable discharge in 1937, Sergeant Basilone, known by his comrades as `Manila John', returned to Raritan. Seeing the storm clouds of war hovering over the Nation, and believing that his place was with this country's fighting forces, Sergeant Basilone enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in July 1940. Sergeant John Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the First Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on October 24 and 25, 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines' defensive positions, Sergeant Basilone, in charge of two sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sergeant Basilone's sections, with its gun crews, was put out of action, leaving only two men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sergeant Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in a large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. In December 1944, Sergeant Basilone's restlessness to rejoin his fellow Marines, who were fighting the bloody island-to-island battles en route to the Philippines and Japan, prompted him to volunteer again for combat. On Iwo Jima, on February 19, 1945, Sergeant Basilone again distinguished himself by single-handedly destroying an enemy blockhouse while braving heavy-caliber fire. Minutes later, an artillery shell killed Sergeant Basilone and 4 of his platoon members. Sergeant Basilone was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for this action, giving him the distinction of being the only enlisted Marine in World War II to receive all 3 medals [Basilone was the first recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded in World War II].
The Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), while participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, established their base camp for operations in a patch of dirt at Qalat Sukar [Qalat Sukkar] in Central Iraq. The Qalat Sikar Airbase is nearby, but was not secured by Coalition forces. The area was an unused oilfield which at one time served as farm land. The Marines named their camp after Fenway Park, the major league baseball park in Boston.
In the austere city of Qalat Sukkar the Ba'ath Party once terrified the locals with ruthless violence. The city needs a lot. Striking poverty shows that the locals need food, water, and electricity. Trash and dead animals litter the ground and gray sewage runoff covers the streets indicating a dire need for proper irrigation. Residents of the town of Qalat Sukar, Iraq crowded its streets and sidewalks to cheer on Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) who arrived to destroy symbols of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party regime.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 split from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and rejoined their parent command, Marine Air Group 29, to conduct missions in Iraq. Based out of the occupied airfield in Jabala, CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters worked exclusively with Task Force Tarawa - the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (reinforced).
The Marines of the 24th MEU (SOC) came into Iraq on a float that was extended indefinitely. Due to the nature of their mission the Marines did not know when they would get to leave Iraq to return to the United States.
During the time the MEU was at Fenway, many events converged to create lasting impressions about the base camp and about Iraq in general. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) was at Camp Fenway in Southern Iraq on 19 April 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Camp Fenway was a small base in Central Iraq occupied by Marines of the 24th MEU (SOC) during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Finding a way to connect with family and friends back home, Marines and Sailors from the 24th MEU (SOC) and Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Az., made use of the tactical phones provided by the 24th MEU (SOC) Joint Task Force Enabler at Camp Fenway in Central Iraq.
Upon arriving at Camp Fenway, the main body of the Command Element was greeted by the sound of a chemical attack siren. The Marines quickly donned their gas masks. After doing so, some froze while others continued to dig the survivability positions that they had already begun. All was silence in the camp except for the clinking of entrenching tools until the 'all clear' was given.
Some weeks later, Lieutenant General Earl B. Hailston, Commanding General, Marine Forces Central Command, paid a visit to the Marines of the MEU at the camp. During a brief speech he gave to the troops, he called out "OORAH!" His call was answered by enthusiastic Marines, who showed even greater energy and motivation moments later as the General's speech was interrupted by the call of, "White Star Cluster!" by a Marine at an observation post. The Marines quickly grabbed their gear and weapons and ran to their fighting positions where they waited for either combat or the sounding of 'all clear'. The Marines returned to their duties when an "all clear" was given.
After several weeks of operating in Iraq, the MEU received orders to redeploy to Amphibious Ready Group shipping for movement back to the US. At that point, the suspense of not knowing how long they would be in Iraq was lifted. Finally, the Marines began to get some idea of when they would be leaving. They went directly from being at Fenway indefinitely to being told they would be leaving in a couple of days. Shortly thereafter, tents began to come down and Marines began packing up to return to their ships - and to showers and hot chow.
Though the 24th MEU (SOC) was not the first to arrive in Iraq, by the time they had arrived, they had already been away from home longer than any other unit in country. For this they received the distinction of being the first to leave Iraq.
Once the 24th MEU (SOC) finished their participation in OIF and received the word to begin the retrograde back to the ships, HMM-263 was tasked with supporting. They conducted troop lifts for the BLT, shuttling them back to the MEU headquarters at Camp Fenway. Then two days of maintenance was conducted on all of the CH-46 helicopters before they began their own retrograde back to the ship. On the April 24th, HMM-263 was reinstated with the MEU and flew back to the Nassau Amphibious ready group, where they wait to go home.
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