CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (REIN) recently rejoined its parent command, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), after wrapping up a month of flying numerous missions throughout high-tension areas in Iraq.
While their squadron was away, the 15th MEU spent more than a month at a Forward Operating Base in southern Baghdad conducting security and stabilization missions before turning the area of operations over to the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in mid-April.
The camp here allowed HMM-165 (REIN) to project their air power in multiple directions, supporting several units while being just a half-hour flight from the MEU’s FOB, according to Lt. Col. Eric J. Steidl, commanding officer, HMM-165 and native of Idaho Falls Id. "Not only was our unit to big to fit at [the MEU’s FOB], but they did not have parts readily available for us like we have here at Al Taqaddum."
The ACE kept busy during their short time in Iraq by flying over hostile territory to pick up companies of MEU Marines and inserting them into different areas to conduct patrols to disrupt insurgent activity.
HMM-165 (REIN) played a key role in each one of these missions, Steidl said. They conducted Marine inserts, extractions, re-supplies, detainee evacuations, and security patrols.
"We had the majority of our flights flown at night to deny insurgents the ability to hit us with optically fired weapons," said Steidl. "Our helicopters have defense mechanisms against heat seeking rockets and other tracking weapons but darkness is our only defense against small arms fire."
Throughout the month, HMM-165 (REIN) hauled more than 135,000 lbs of cargo and 2,100 troops, and in support of operations they flew more than 216 flights totaling 300 hours of flight time.
Due to the fact that many of the helicopters in the squadron were introduced into the Marine Corps in the 1960’s, most of the aircraft maintainers in HMM-165 (REIN) spent much of their time fixing the aircraft between missions.
“When something goes wrong on one of the helicopters it doesn’t get put on a schedule -- we work on it until it is fixed,” said Cpl. Gregory Westbrook of Memphis, Tenn., an avionics technician with HMM-165.
Al Taqaddum's central location in Iraq allowed the squadron to support multiple units with relative ease. “While we’ve been here we supported a lot more units than just the MEU and served as the ‘dust off’ to evacuate any casualties from improvised explosive devices,” according to Staff Sgt. Wade Davis of Ogden, Utah, a CH-46E crew chief. The dust off mission is an emergency casualty evacuation from a potentially hostile landing zone.
Although the ACE does not generally interact with locals on the ground, they still do their best to leave a good impression. “During our flights with the operations we were very mindful of the local farmers in the area, trying not to damage any of their crops or scare the livestock,” said Davis. “We really are trying to make a positive influence with everything we do out here.
“Seeing all the progress that has been made out here since OIF first started is awesome,” Davis said. “The people are much friendlier to us and you can easily tell that we are definitely making a difference out here.”
This is not the first deployment for many of the Marines, but they were still unsure of what the conditions would be like. “We really didn’t know what to expect when we got here so it was like stepping into a dark room,” said Sgt. Stephen Peacock, a CH-46E Sea Knight mechanic and native of Swedesboro, N.J.
While the ACE's CH-46E Sea Knights, UH-1N Hueys, and AH-1W Super Cobras were all conducting missions from the base here, the squadron’s CH-53E Super Stallions and AV-8B Harriers were located at Al Asad Airfield, standing by as the Quick Reaction Force for the 2nd Marine Air Wing. "Our Harriers supported both the 15th MEU (SOC) and 2nd MAW with not only surveillance but with were readily available with fire support too," said Steidl.
"[HMM-165] had a very unique experience by not only performing MEU missions but we also participated in OIF missions, where a typical unit only participates in one or the other," said Steidl. "We also had the experience of performing every mission that a Special Operations Capable MEU trains to do.
"All of the Marines did a superb job out here," said Steidl. "The success of the unit is due purely to the hard work of all the Marines since we have been here."