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HMLA-167 Tackles OIF/OEF

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  • HMLA-167 Tackles OIF/OEF

    Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 'Warriors' Successfully and Simultaneously Tackle Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom
    Multi-National Corps Iraq Public Affairs RSS
    Story by Gunnery Sgt. Reina Barnett
    Date: 05.27.2009
    Posted: 05.27.2009 08:48

    Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 'Warriors' Successfully and Simultaneously Tackle Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom
    CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq The warriors of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 call Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, their home for right now, but they've also been busy on another war front. From February through April, the squadron sent a detachment of 55 Marines to Camp Bastion, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. The Marines provided support to Operation Enduring Freedom.

    Despite already being committed to a mission in Iraq, the Marines of HMLA-167 were excited at the opportunity to spread their wings and support the International Security Afghanistan Force.

    Capt. Jessica Hawkins, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot, has served with the squadron for two years and said the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan was a wonderful one.

    "It gave us the opportunity to provide close air support for troops on the ground that were in harm's way, and it gave us the chance to do what we train for," she said.

    A typical day for the detachment Marines was spent preparing for and flying two missions of two hours each. These missions involved anything from escorting convoys to providing overhead support for troops on the ground.

    Capt. Andrew Wimsatt, also a Cobra pilot with the squadron, said deploying to Afghanistan as part of this detachment was a good experience for him.

    "It was an opportunity to be in a different theater and experience new things and that was pretty cool. It's a completely different front on the war on terror and was a lot more kinetic," he said.

    Although the activity level might have been higher in OEF, the living conditions were not as developed as they are in other places throughout Iraq.

    "The conditions were austere," explained Wimsatt. "We worked in four or five general purpose tents at Forward Operating Base Bastion."

    Hawkins said although the terrain was a big difference in operating in Afghanistan, and resources were sometimes scarce, the challenges were nothing the Marines couldn't overcome.

    "Our mission was to support 3rd battalion, 8th Marines by providing offensive air support, and that's what we did."

    Wimsatt echoed Hawkins' sentiment, saying everyone came together to get the job done and did whatever it took to ensure that was the case.

    "Maintainers did great with what limited tools they had," said Wimsatt. "They had to be creative. Sometimes that meant trading with the Brits."

    First Lt. Scott Mayberry, the maintenance control officer-in-charge, said their British allies were willing to lend a helping hand whenever needed.

    "[They] held a belief that we were on the same team. Over the course of the detachment, they assisted us in changing out more than five transmissions, hubs, blades or masts." Mayberry added that the British units were essential to mission accomplishment.

    If the squadron ran out of nuts, screws, bolts or tools, the British units had no issues with giving the Marines anything they had in order to get the aircraft back to a flyable status.

    "Overall, the mindset was geared toward mission accomplishment," said Wimsatt. "Whether it was maintenance on aircraft or supporting ground troops outside the wire, there was definitely a sense of unity."

    According to Wimsatt, the most rewarding part of deploying to Afghanistan was being able to effectively support the ground Marines with close air support. It was also interesting to Wimsatt to see other countries' forces working alongside U.S. forces. The team effort was apparent everywhere you looked.

    "For instance, once, we were taking a rotor-head off of an aircraft in phase, and that requires a crane, but we didn't have one. The Brits came over and brought in their crane and so we traded with them...we gave them our squadron shirts and coins."

    It didn't matter what unit was there or who they were working with, Wimsatt said. Everyone was there to take the fight to the Taliban and provide responsive, accurate support for the ground troops.

    Cpl. Kevin Escalante, an ordnance technician with the squadron said he made sure the weapons systems on the aircraft were working properly. Escalante, like Hawkins and Wimsatt, is also on his second deployment.

    "I made sure everything from rocket and jet checks were accomplished every 72 hours, and made sure the Hellfire missile system was working properly," said Escalante, of his duties aboard Bastion. "I liked the smaller group of Marines we had out there. We had limited resources, but it wasn't a problem."

    Escalante attributed the good experience he had to the teamwork he saw every day.

    "We were short-handed at times but we still accomplished what we had to. Our main goal was trying to do our jobs in a timely manner. There's a lot going on over there, but everyone is working together and we hardly had any problems with the aircraft."

    Another Marine from HMLA-167, Cpl. Michael Mannella, who has spent nearly his entire career with the squadron, volunteered to deploy to OEF.

    The UH-1N Huey and Cobra mechanic said he wanted to see what operating in Afghanistan was like.

    "I wanted to see what was going on at the beginning of our operations there." This is Mannella's third deployment with the squadron. He said he's been afforded so many unique experiences, he feels very lucky.

    "I've gotten the best opportunities from this squadron. I've been on a [Marine expeditionary unit], visiting different countries, served in OIF and OEF."

    During his time at Bastion, Mannella was responsible for supporting flight schedules, prepping the aircraft for flight missions and overseeing and participating with the mission of getting aircraft out of phase maintenance in a timely manner.

    With the detachment's mission at Bastion behind them for now, Hawkins said the deployment was a great success with everyone working hard.

    "We didn't fly without our younger troops. They are more responsible than most 18 to 22 year olds," she said. "Without knowing it, they carry a really big load on their backs."

    Hawkins added, "It was great fun and it was great to work for ground guys, knowing there were real threats out there and that we played a part in keeping them safe."
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