MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- After hitting the sands of Iraq about 6 months ago and working straight through the holidays, the Sweathogs of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 are counting down the days until they return to the Air Station in late March.
While at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, MWSS-273 has been attached to Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). They began combat operations Aug. 25, 2006.
“Our main mission is providing aviation ground support to all 3rd MAW squadrons and Multi-National Forces-West units operating from Al Asad Air Base and Forward Operating Base Al Qaim, Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hooks, the commanding officer of MWSS-273.
Prior to deployment, the Sweathogs participated in several pre-deployment exercises, which included Battle Hog at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Desert Talon at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.
“I think the training we went through gave some of the Marines on their first deployment a good idea of what to expect and how to cope with different problems and situations,” said Cpl. Michael Angulo, Jr., a logistics vehicle system operator with MWSS-273.
With the training exercises behind them, the Sweathogs stepped foot onto the sands of Iraq ready to carry-out their assigned missions.
“The Sweathogs have participated in the support of 13 aviation squadrons, engineering support of Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection and base quality of life improvements and airfield infrastructure improvements,” Hooks said. “Marines and sailors have also completed missions outside-the-wire, which include over 75 counter-Improvised Explosive Devices patrols conducted on main and alternate supply routes in the Al Anbar Province, over 200 explosive ordnance disposals, the tactical recovery of seven aircraft and security escort for Iraq infrastructure repair and re-supply projects.”
According to Staff Sgt. Clint Hunt, the air operations staff noncommissioned officer in charge with MWSS-273, the deployment has flown by due to the fact that Marines hit the deck running and haven’t stopped yet.
MWSS-273 has been conducting missions with 509 Marines and 36 sailors for their current deployment, Hooks said. Although the Sweathogs were unable to bring their entire squadron, they have been proving they can accomplish goals no matter the situation.
“The deployment has been very successful,” Hooks said. “All of our missions have been completed with outstanding operational results and we have (accomplished) that without any injuries or deaths within the command.”
With a consistently high operational tempo - 24-hour missions and no days off - the Sweathogs stay focused on the task at hand.
“Sometimes days get highly repetitive,” Angulo said. “It’s still important to remember you are in a combat zone and you still need to stay vigilant and take pride in your work.”
Like any other deployed unit, the Marines and sailors of MWSS-273 face one of the harder (and most common) aspects of deployment.
“Naturally, being away from families and loved ones is a challenge,” Hunt said. “(Although) with programs like the Video Teleconference communications, Segovia (internet cafes) and Rest and Relaxation in Qatar really help.”
During the deployment, some Marines had the opportunity to expand their combat experience outside the wire of Al Asad.
“I was one of two motor transportation operators supporting flightline operations on board a small Forward Arming and Refueling Point near the Syrian boarder,” Angulo said. “I will probably never get a chance like that again, that was very unique for me.”
While their days in the sandbox narrow down, the Sweathogs have begun to prepare for their return home.
“At the end of the day, you can always say you did your part,” Hunt said. “Now we are in the process of getting all our post-deployment classes scheduled to ensure upon returning home all Marines get a chance for some well-earned time off.”
According to Hooks, the Sweathogs remain focused on the mission until their turnover is complete with MWSS-271 and continue to conduct Warrior Transition/Decompression Training.
“I think all we want to do is finish strong, continue doing a good job and return home to our families,” Angulo said. “I’m just glad to be going home after a good deployment.”