MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- More than 100 Marines and Sailors from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Sunday from a seven-month deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The squadron, which deployed in January, was based at Camp Al Asad, and provided close air support and aerial reconnaissance for II Marine Expeditionary Force and Army, Coalition, Iraqi and Special Forces.
“The Marines produced an unbelievable performance,” said Lt. Col. Will Thomas, the VMFA(AW)-224 commanding officer. “They should be proud of their service. Everyone went above and beyond.”
While in Iraq the squadron logged more than 7,000 combat flight hours and completed 2,400 combat sorties, expending more than 30,000 pounds of ordnance.
“We flew all sorts of different combat operations in support of Marine and Coalition Forces,” said Capt. Erik Peterson, a pilot with VMFA(AW)-224. “It was very rewarding. We were over there doing missions that we practice for our whole careers.”
For many of the pilots the most difficult part of the deployment was dealing with the adverse conditions, according to Peterson.
“There was not enough communication, which made it a little difficult at times,” Peterson said. “Obviously dealing with the desert environment was hard. Then of course just being away from home.”
The Marines received a true test of their adaptability when they first arrived in Iraq, according to Peterson.
“When we got there it was cold and rainy,” Peterson said. “It quickly turned to hot, windy and dusty. But just like any other Marines, we adapted and overcame.”
After getting settled and adjusting to the weather conditions, the Bengals pilots provided air support for the polling stations during Iraq’s first free elections in January.
“It was our first major mission and it was very rewarding,” Peterson said. “We will always remember it because we helped make history.”
With their first major mission under their belts, the squadron continued to fly operations throughout Iraq, from as far north as Mosul and Tal Afar to the industrial centers of Baghdad and Ramadi, and to the western edge of the country near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
The Bengals provided direct support to several large-scale combat operations, which included Operation Raging Bull, Operation Matador and Operation Spear.
“For most of those operations we provided close air support and armed reconnaissance,” Peterson said. “Whatever they asked for, we provided.”
The pilots attribute their success to the hard work and effort of the Marines in the squadron, according to Peterson.
“Everyone gave 110 percent to get the aircrafts ready to go on time,” Peterson said.
While in Iraq, the squadron’s operational tempo doubled in intensity, and the Marines took the challenge head on, according to Peterson.
“It was very taxing out there,” Peterson said.
“Working 24 hours a day, it was hot and there were dust storms. But everyone knuckled down and did a great job. I’m really proud of the squadron.”
Another factor that the pilots attribute to their success, is the training they received before deploying to Iraq, according to Peterson.
“If you train the way you fight, you will be more than prepared,” Peterson said. “We spent many months training, so we got out there completely prepared to accomplish our missions.”
After seven months in Iraq, the Bengals were more than ready to return to Beaufort, according to Lance Cpl. Timothy Burgwald, an aviation ordnanceman with VMFA(AW)-224.
“It is a great feeling to be back,” Burgwald said. “We did a really good job out there. Our work is a testament of how we performed. The hardest part was getting through each day and not thinking of home.”
Now that the squadron has returned, the Bengals focus is on getting the Marines some time off to be with their families and relax after a rigorous seven months, according to Peterson.
“Our next mission is getting the Marines some well-deserved leave,” Peterson said. “Then we’ll get the squadron back together and move on to training.”