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Reserve Marines adapt, thrive in 24th MEU's Aviation Combat Element

27 Apr 2002 | Sgt. Bryan P. Reed 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Recently activated Marine reservists from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772, serving as augments to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Aviation Combat Element, traveled to Willow Grove, Pa. this spring to train in a realistic MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) environment in order to develop tactics for close air support in an urban area. 

Joined by the Tactical Air Control Party element of Battalion Landing Team 2/2, the reservists, activated after the September 11th terrorist attacks, participated in this training evolution as part of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 (Reinforced).  Between evolutions, a few of them took some time out to talk about their newly changed lives.

Marines interviewed agreed that they had made some sacrifices in being activated, but that they also share a common benefit: They felt that being activated was a great way to reinforce their commitment to the Marine Corps and the country.

Pfc. Douglas J. Barnes, a flightline mechanic from Jersey Square, Pa, when asked how being activated has impacted his life stated, "I'm married and I have kids, so it is a big loss of pay."  When asked about his experiences since the activation, Pfc. Barnes replied, "I've learned a lot of new stuff. I got to see a lot of new places and I learned a lot more about my job."

Cpl. Julio A. Vargas had this to say about working with Active duty Marines "I like it.  It's fun." Vargas is an injection molding operator at his home in Bethlehem, Pa, and produces plastic medical devices.  He now works with the squadron as a CH-53 mechanic.  For him, one of the hardest parts of being activated is being separated from his wife, whom he plans to see this summer when he takes leave.   Meanwhile, he spends his free time with his twin brother, Cpl. Arquimides Vargas, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune. 

Sgt. Steven W. Dixon, having previously served as an active duty Marine, was able to speak about his assignment from a different perspective.  "There are a lot of differences. Active duty Marines fly a lot more, they train a lot more, they shoot a lot more ordnance.  It's a different story completely. With active duty Marines you gain more experience because they've been here and there and have done a lot of things that reservists just don't get a chance to do."

The reservists got their chance at Willow Grove when the composite squadron spent five days conducting urban live fire operations, working with Forward Air Controllers (FACs) on the ground to guide close air support.  The maintenance and preparation cycle kept pace with the training and the Marines stayed busy.  "Working here is very fast paced - it's nothing like our weekend drills," said Vargas.