IRAQ -- Operating in 'any clime, any place,' that's what Marines are known for around the world. For the Marines of the Marine Air Control Group 28 detachment, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 (Reinforced), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), this proved to be true over the course of their nine-month deployment in support of Kosovo Forces, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Composed of diverse assets, the MACG-28 detachment allows the Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU (SOC) to maintain control of the skies above them. The detachment, which has Avenger weaponry, Low Altitude Air Defenses (LAAD), Air Traffic Controllers, and an Aviation Support Element (ASE), honed its collective and individual skills during the deployment. Members of the unit also got back to basics by practicing the skills every Marine must know - those of a basic rifleman.
Since the MEU assembled and began pre-deployment work-ups, these Marines have trained hard, preparing for the inevitable but hoping for the best. When the MEU went ashore in Iraq to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom, they put their training to the test.
Coming off of the ship, the different sections split up and went separate ways. Like the majority of the MEU's Aviation Combat Element, MACG-28 was assigned to support the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. A few Marines, however, were attached to Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, the MEU's Ground Combat Element.
"We did whatever job we had to do to get the job done and come home," said Sgt. Eric M. Suarez, an Avenger technician and Philadelphia native. Suarez and a few other Marines from LAAD were attached to Weapons Company of BLT 2/2. Their job was primarily to provide an air defense. However, "No air defense was needed...our .50 cals played a bigger role," said the Philadelphian. Without the need for an air defense, LAAD provided security for convoys along the supply routes going north and south throughout Central Iraq using the crew-served 50-caliber weapons mounted on their High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, or HMMWVs.
When they weren't escorting convoys, the LAAD Marines attached to the line companies used their non-lethal combatant training. When Golf Company, BLT 2/2, 24th MEU (SOC) was tasked with carrying out a raid, these Marines joined in, proving that every Marine is a rifleman, no matter what your occupational specialty is.
For the Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team (MMT), the assigned role was different. Tasked to provide missions for MACG-38, 3rd MAW, they dug in at the Yankee Forward Arming and Refueling Point, about 10 miles south of Baghdad. Their mission was to provide air traffic control using just the communication assets strapped to their backs and a 9000-foot airstrip.
These Marines were responsible for getting ammunition, food, water, and supplies to Regimental Combat Teams 1 and 5, Task Force Tripoli. Their mission proved successful, and will leave a lasting impression. "Being there gave me a good understanding of what the Iraqi people have gone through. It reinforced the fact that we were there for a good reason," said 1st Lt. David K. Pidgeon, an Air Traffic Control Officer and Auburn, Al. native.
"Everything we have done in the Marine Corps was practice for this type of situation. I was able to see how it unfolds. We did a good job. We did it right," said Cpl. Tommy W. Burch, an Air Support Net Operator and Salem, Va. Native. Cpl Burch is a member of the Air Support Element, a section of MACG-28.
Attached to the BLT, Burch and his fellow Marines provided the line companies with communication assets for air support. Whether it was MEDEVACs or logistic needs like food and water, the ASE provided the missing link between ground and air. "If we're not out here, people get stuck out there," said Sgt. Gustavo A. Valdez, a radio operator from Uniondale, N.Y.
For Captain Brad W. Horton, the Officer-In-Charge of MACG-28 det, and a Spartanburg, S.C. native, Operation Iraqi Freedom was a rehash of a lot of the pre-deployment training. "We did everything we did in the work-ups. We provided rear-security, convoy escorts, called in air support and controlled aircraft. We did everything we were tasked with doing," said Horton.
"I was able to see the whole picture, from the planning process down to the actual execution of the mission," he added. When MACG-28 first went ashore, Horton was at the Tactical Air Command Center in Kuwait helping plan airspace utilization before he moved north into Iraq with his troops.
Operation Iraqi Freedom validated many of the procedures used in preparing individual Marines and units for deployments. For the Marines of MACG-28, the saying 'any clime, any place' proved to be true. Whether they stayed with the MEU, or were assigned to another unit, they did what had to be done. They did their job.