MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- The Lowcountry’s overbearing mid-day sun and humid air was not enough to put a frown on any of the anxious friends and family members waiting to greet the Marines of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 returning home from a seven-month deployment at Camp Al Asad, Iraq, Aug. 18.
The mood of the homecoming was festive with colorful tents, motivating music and even Tux the Clown on hand making balloon toys and keeping antsy children occupied.
“I am so excited to have him home, said wife of Capt. Robert Johnson. “This is the first time he gets to see his son Owen. He was born July 6.”
“It’s good to be home,” said Capt. Johnson. “Because I got to meet my son for the first time, coming home is that much more special.”
The Hawks began returning to the Air Station several weeks ago when the Advance Party arrived. The jets, trail maintenance and cargo arrived en masse Aug. 18, and the rest of the squadron was expected back at the Air Station Thursday.
Returning with the Hawks are approximately 40 Marines from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31. The MALS-31 Marines provided intermediate-level maintenance, supply and ordnance support to the aviation squadrons based there, as augments to MALS-16.
The Marines had the opportunity to utilize their training to accomplish the overall mission while deployed, according to said Cpl. Sonja Butler, a plane captain with VMFA(AW)-533
“You really see how proficient you are at what you have been trained to do and it’s fun… the change of pace, the upped tempo and the adrenaline made it all a blur.”
Work on the flight line at Al Asad resembled flight operations here - with the obvious added pressures of being in a combat environment.
“While we were over there we were doing everything that we do here; inspections, engine maintenance, changing tires, launches, recoveries, and fueling,” said Cpl. Caleb Nelson, a Hawk’s plane captain, “we were just doing it all much faster.”
The Hawks left the Lowcountry at the end of January and while deployed in Western Iraq, near the Syrian and Jordanian borders, provided close air support and aerial reconnaissance for I Marine Expeditionary Force and various Army, coalition, Iraqi and Special Forces.
The F/A-18D squadron expended more that 116,000 pounds of ordnance during more that 2,300 combat missions in the volatile Al Anbar province.
“Our time in Iraq was made much better by all of the support from the American public, especially our friends and families in Beaufort.” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey Hardin, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of maintenance control for VMFA(AW)-533. “All of the care packages and letters helped keep morale up, so that we could do our jobs.”