View Full Version : VMA-542, VMA-214 bring Marine attack jets to Iraq

05-23-04, 06:06 AM
VMA-542, VMA-214 bring Marine attack jets to Iraq
Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200452254948
Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

AL ASAD, Iraq (May 22, 2004) -- Marine Attack Squadrons 542 and 214, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, arrived here in the mid-afternoon hours and throughout the night of May 18, to augment the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force missions throughout Western Iraq.

VMA-542, nicknamed the "Tigers," departed Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., about a week before arriving in Iraq. As the "Tigers" lifted off for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marines of VMA-214, nicknamed the "Black Sheep," were leaving Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to do the same.

The attack squadrons will assist Marine light attack helicopter squadrons already in theater with close air support for ground troops who need the aerial firepower that these planes can provide. This support for the troops is the number one mission of the AV-8B Harrier II and is the first priority to the squadrons, claimed Capt. Phil B. Kendro, Harrier pilot and adjutant, VMA-214.

"We want to help out," Kendro said. "It is our duty to help our fellow Marines out here."

One of Kendro's counterparts from the "Tigers" agreed wholeheartedly with his assessment of the Harriers purpose in Iraq.

"In the Marine air community, we focus on being 'air to mud' warriors by supporting the troops on the ground," said Capt. Christian D. Rizzo, Harrier pilot, VMA-542. "It all revolves around support of the Marines on the ground."

Both squadrons deployed to Iraq last year, and after a short rest period, came back for another round. The families weren't happy, but were understanding of this deployment, Kendro said.

"I don't think the families were excited, but they know that this is what we signed up for and what our job is," he said. "They understand that our fellow Marines are over here and that we needed to come help them and bring everyone home."

Rizzo noted that time for preparation was short for the squadron this time, but past experience has helped immeasurably.

"It was a fast deployment and everything happened very quickly," he explained. "We were very prepared for this; we worked hard before we came here. Everyone did a good job getting themselves and the squadron ready to go."

The attack squadrons have a difficult mission ahead of them, so safety is paramount for the Marines when performing their mission, remarked Rizzo.

"It's a very enthusiastic crowd," he said. "We're excited to be able to work and do our jobs. However, we'll have to be very careful when employing our weapons.

"If in an effort to protect our troops you have to endanger them, you're not doing your job," he added. "We protect troops and protect life. We'll have to be surgical and it will be challenging."

As challenging as the future may look for the squadrons that are joining the fight to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the Harriers' part of the mission is to bring the fight to the enemy, Rizzo said. There is no better way to do this than to add the Harrier squadrons into the mix of Marines already here, he added.

"When you get the Marine on the ground and the Marine in the air working together, it is absolutely devastating to the enemy," he concluded. "This is a war and it will be challenging, but we will accomplish the mission."


An AV-8B Harrier II lands on the Al Asad runway, May 18. The jet belongs to Marine Attack Squadron 542, which arrived with elements of VMA-214 in mid-May. The two squadrons are attached to Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and were brought to support the aviation combat element of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Photo by: Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte


Right) Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general, greets Capt. Wynn D. Hodgins, AV-8B Harrier II pilot, Marine Attack Squadron 542, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd MAW, when he arrived at Al Asad, Iraq, May 18. The Marine and his fellow pilots had just flown into the country from the United States. VMA-542 and VMA-214 were brought to Iraq to aid 1st Marine Expeditionary Force operations throughout Western Iraq. Photo by: Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte



05-23-04, 06:06 AM
Issue Date: May 24, 2004

New faces in combat
Non-Fleet Marine Force units deploying troops to war zones

By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer

There was a time when Marines assigned to certain commands, bases or stations could count on never getting deployment orders. Now, it seems, that’s no longer true.
Corps officials are sending “onesies and twosies” from commands across the Corps that rarely deploy Marines.

Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., already has deployed 412 individual augmentees, most of them to Iraq and some to Afghanistan. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., has sent nearly 20 Marines.

But perhaps the best illustration that times have changed is at the Corps’ oldest post, Marine Barracks Washington. Nearly 32 infantrymen recently deployed from there for duty in Iraq.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Corps has sent about 2,400 individual augmentees to combat zones or to fill gaps elsewhere, said Maj. Sarah Fullwood, a Corps spokeswoman at Quantico.

The job skills of the Marines being sent run the gamut, from infantry to administration. In personnel lingo, it’s called “global sourcing.” What it means is that, no matter who you are, what you’re doing or where you’re stationed, you could be headed to combat.

“The entire mind-set has changed as we deploy Marines that literally are leaving from the workspaces, from the [Marine] Barracks,” said Col. Kevin Dodge, commanding officer of Quantico’s Headquarters and Service Battalion. The battalion has deployed 84 Marines, Dodge said.

“They know they could be the next one to go and their perspective has shifted.”

Most of the Marines sent from Parris Island left in February and are due back in September. A large group is running the Iraqi NCO Academy in Baghdad.

The “8th & I” leathernecks likely are deploying for a seven-month stint.

Dodge said he is aware of how important it is to react to the changing reality of deployments. Marines at Quantico, who normally would settle in for a quiet assignment, are training and getting their personal affairs in order with an eye toward the possibility of deployment.

In a sign of the times, Dodge established a Key Wives volunteer program for the battalion, a network of spouses who coordinate activities at home and get the word out about their deployed Marines.

And now, checking in at Dodge’s battalion means more than the usual visits to admin shops and housing offices. It also means getting dental and medical work done, completing wills and signing powers of attorney.

“We take an extra couple days here to ensure we have that, so that if we do get the call, we’ve minimized what we have to do with them,” Dodge said.

Annual training requirements are being tackled with a little more enthusiasm, too.

“Whereas it used to be like pulling teeth to conduct it, now it’s easy to get them to do it when they know they can be sent over in a matter of weeks.”

Maybe that’s why Cpl. Barry Conner, 37, an administrative clerk with H&S Battalion, found himself in full combat gear May 5 as he completed Marine Battle Skills testing near an abandoned satellite building on a remote part of the base.

Does Conner think he might deploy? He is pretty sure he’ll be going at some point.

And he takes the training seriously, he said, because he’s probably going to use it.

“Put it this way,” he said. “My [end of active service] is in 2007.”



05-23-04, 06:07 AM
Karbala Calm After Weeks of Heavy Fighting


KARBALA, Iraq - Many militiamen loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have returned to their homes after abandoning the center of Karbala, where they had held positions for weeks during heavy fighting with U.S. forces, witnesses said Sunday.

There were no reports of fighting in the holy city on Sunday. Fighters said they had heard there was a truce with American forces, who were also not seen in the streets, but the U.S. military denied claims that all combatants had agreed to withdraw from the city.

"There was no cease fire, no deal made in Karbala," said Maj. David Gercken, spokesman for the 1st Armored Division. "We do not and will not make deals with militias or criminals."

Meanwhile, fighting flared anew overnight in the Shiite holy city of Najaf and nearby Kufa between American soldiers and al-Sadr's militia. Bursts of heavy mortar and machine gun fire were heard.

U.S. forces captured 10 militiamen overnight, but encountered little or no resistance during patrols, Gercken said. The 1st Armored Division has been conducting operations in Karbala.

"We have kept pressure on them, kept engaging them and been successful with those operations," Gercken said.

Gercken said an Iraqi police force was expected to begin patrolling Karbala later Sunday.

Iraqi leaders in Karbala have been trying to negotiate an end to the fighting, though coalition officials have stood by their position that al-Sadr disband his militia and "face justice." The cleric, who launched an uprising against the coalition last month, is wanted in the murder of a rival moderate cleric last year.

"There is no presence of armed militias in the city," said Adham Mahmoud, a hotel worker in Karbala. "People have started leaving their homes and going into the streets. Some have embarked on reconstructing their damaged houses."

There was no sign Sunday of al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army around Karbala's Imam Hussein shrine, one of Shia Islam's holiest sites. The shrine was guarded by a special security force in civilian clothing that was appointed by top Shiite clerics.

The fighting has damaged the local economy, which is based on tourism by Shiite pilgrims who have been frightened away by conflict. Many residents have said they want all armed groups to leave.

"We are fed up with the situation," said Mutaz Hussein, whose business running a market stall has dried up because of the fighting. "We neither want the Americans nor the militias to stay in the city. Fighting is preventing us from earning a living. We have families to feed."

In Kufa, witnesses saw several destroyed houses inside the al-Maisam district on Sunday after an American force drove through the city overnight. After daybreak, the city was relatively quiet.

North of Baghdad, gunmen killed a police captain and a university student in Baqouba on Sunday, a hospital official said. Capt. Haidar Hadi was giving the student a lift to Baghdad when the gunmen opened fire. A police sergeant in the car was injured, said Nassir Jawad of Baqouba General Hospital.

A policeman was killed and two others were seriously injured when a bomb exploded as they patrolled between Basra and Zubeir in southern Iraq on Sunday, police said.

Insurgents routinely target police and other Iraqis who are working with the U.S.-led coalition governing Iraq.

In Basra, a mortar shell landed on a house in al-Iskan district, killing one woman and injuring five men, said Khalid Abdelallah, an official at Mawanei Hospital. It was unclear who fired the mortar round.



05-23-04, 06:08 AM
Hoping for home

By: ANNE RILEY-KATZ - Staff Writer

FALLBROOK ---- Since the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the colors red, white and blue have made a visible jump in popularity, from fashion to flags, but outrage over a widening scandal involving U.S. troops has even the most patriotic Americans seeing red.

Widely publicized photos and video clips of smiling American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners have sparked worldwide outrage, and Pentagon officials publicly expressed concern last week that the scandal has damaged the U.S. international image. Belief that the abuses have triggered increased violence, including the videotaped beheading of an American contractor held hostage in Iraq, have some local military families say they are more worried than ever about getting their loved ones home quickly.

Throughout Fallbrook and other area communities are visible signs of support for the war in Iraq, with banners, flags and bumper stickers displayed outside businesses and on cars, but local residents say the mood has dampened in past weeks.

Twenty-one year old Enrique Gomez Jr., a Navy Corpsman attached to 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, is in the midst of his second deployment to Iraq, and may be up for a third. His 19-year-old wife, Jayleen, is counting the days until he is back at home, and questions the benefit of yet another deployment.

"He's not even home yet, and they're talking about sending him back for a third time," the young Fallbrook woman said. "You can't force democracy on people, and (continued U.S. presence in Iraq) is making it worse for all the troops over there."

Although the Gomezes have been married for two years, they have not spent an anniversary together because of Enrique's deployment. But Jayleen said her family's fear for her husband's safety eclipses disappointment at his prolonged absence.

"My parents worry constantly, and call all the time," she said. "We've been married for about two years, and I've been alone practically the whole time. Every day I wake up and count the days left on the calendar."

Jayleen said that while she believes the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops were isolated incidents, they have increased her frustration with the length of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"They don't understand what it's like to have a husband over there," Jayleen said. "That kind of thing puts all of our husbands in danger. Don't they know they're making it worse?"

Ever-present danger

Cpl. Mark Combs, 23, knows firsthand how dangerous Iraq can be.

Combs is back home in Fallbrook with his wife, Kelly, after he stepped on a land mine while with his unit in Iraq last year. He was left with shrapnel in his legs and hands and is undergoing extensive physical therapy for his injuries.

Combs said that while recent media attention has increased public perception of danger during the war and highlighted the threat to civilians in Iraq, the violence is nothing new.

"It's always been dangerous," he said. "The whole reason we're still over there is that we're fighting insurgents. We've been attacked the whole time."

Others, though, said they feel that the prisoner-abuse scandal and increased violence are more than just a perceived threat to troops.

Michelle Falatko, whose husband Gavin is stationed in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, said concern about the ramifications of the abuse scandal have her checking in with her husband as much as possible.

"I worry a lot more about (U.S. prisoners of war) over there now; I definitely think it's more dangerous for them," she said. "It's always been a bad situation, but now they hate us more than ever."

For Falatko, the personal connection to the war in Iraq increases her need for information

"Now that I'm a military wife, I care a lot more about every little detail of what's going on," she said. "I have more at stake, and I watch TV and check the Internet all the time."

Falatko said the pictures of the prisoner abuse alone may not be a complete and reliable accounting of what took place.

"I try really hard not to judge them, because we have absolutely no idea what's going on over there," Falatko said. "I've never been over there, dealing with the things they do everyday, so I don't know the situation."

Down at the shop

Though she doesn't have family in the military, Jackie Colvin spends most of her days with Marines. Colvin owns the Mission Barber Shop in Fallbrook, where many Camp Pendleton Marines regularly get their hair cut.

"They're like family to us; they're in here all the time," she said. "We had two customers killed and several wounded, and it's hurt us because we care about them so much."

Colvin said that most of her military customers are "infuriated" by the abuses, and that she now believes the time has come for the military to come home.

"It's more dangerous for our troops because of (the abuses), and I think it's caused more problems," Colvin said. "Just hurry up and finish what they have to do and get them all home. This can't go on forever."

Contact staff writer Anne Riley-Katz at (760) 731-5799 or ariley-katz@nctimes.com.



05-23-04, 07:41 AM
Among Iraqis, onetime flash point now regarded as sea of calm
By Ibon Villelabeitia, Reuters | May 21, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- A month after hundreds were killed in fierce clashes between US Marines and guerrillas, Fallujah's leaders said yesterday the city is the safest in Iraq and invited US contractors back to rebuild it.

''Finally we have peace in Fallujah. This city is today the safest and the calmest in Iraq," Mayor Mahmoud Ibraheem Al-Juraisi told reporters, under the watchful eyes of heavily armed US Marines in Humvees mounted with machine guns.

At a news conference at which confiscated rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47s were displayed, the Iraqi general entrusted by US forces to control Fallujah said the time for fighting was over and Americans and Iraqis should work together.

''Everybody wants peace back," said General Mohammed Latif, commander of the Fallujah Brigade, which includes soldiers from Saddam Hussein's old army.

''The most important thing is that Iraqis and Americans are working together, and this is going to be an example for all Iraq," said Latif. ''When reconstruction begins, American engineers are welcomed to come."

US forces backed by warplanes and tanks launched a crackdown on the Sunni stronghold of 300,000 after a crowd killed and mutilated four American private contractors on March 31 and dragged their bodies through the streets.

Under a cease-fire agreement, Marines lifted their siege and pulled back to the outskirts, directing the Fallujah Brigade to restore security.

The deal put an end to clashes, but US commanders have expressed growing impatience at the brigade's slow pace in stripping guerrillas of heavy weapons and arresting the killers of the contractors.

Latif said guerrillas had ''voluntarily" handed over the rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47s to his 1,800-strong brigade. ''The safer people feel, the more weapons are going to be turned over," he said.

Latif praised US forces for ''ridding Iraq of the worst dictator on earth," but he said there were no foreign fighters left in Fallujah, as the Americans contend.

Major General James Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division, said the Fallujah Brigade still has to prove itself.

Marines are massed outside Fallujah and have not ruled out renewing their crackdown if the brigade fails to restore order and hunt weapons. Three Marines have been killed in action this week in the volatile province that includes Fallujah.

''The Fallujah Brigade has to demonstrate it has control," Mattis told reporters. ''This is just the beginning of things. Not the end of things."

Asked if he would send US military contractors into Fallujah to help with reconstruction after the city was battered by US airstrikes, Mattis said: ''I have no need to send American contractors if you have Iraqis who can do it."

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2004/05/21/among_iraqis_onetime_flash_point_now_regarded_as_s ea_of_calm/


05-23-04, 10:24 AM
U.S. kills 18 fighters loyal to al-Sadr

By Fisnik Abrashi

KARBALA, Iraq — American AC-130 gunships and tanks battled militiamen near shrines in this Shi'ite holy city yesterday, and fighting was heavy in two other towns south of Baghdad. The military said 18 fighters loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were killed.
The military said four persons were detained in Baghdad in connection with the killing of Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American whose videotaped beheading was shown on the Internet. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said two of them, arrested Wednesday, were released after questioning.

An Iraqi security official also said four persons were arrested in the case, but he appeared to be referring to a different group of detainees that he said was led by a relative of Saddam Hussein.
American officials have previously said they believe Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian wanted for purportedly organizing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq on behalf of al Qaeda, personally carried out Mr. Berg's decapitation. Footage of the killing was posted on an al Qaeda-linked Web site.
The Iraqi security official said Iraqi police on May 14 arrested four suspects — all former members of Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary organization — in a raid in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad. The group was led by Yasser al-Sabawi, a Saddam nephew who was not among those captured, the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Another Iraqi official, who also declined to be named, confirmed the arrests.
Gen. Kimmitt said the military was unaware of a Saddam connection to the killing.
"I don't know their prior affiliations or prior organizations," he said. "We have some intelligence that would suggest they have knowledge, perhaps some culpability."
Mr. Berg, of West Chester, Pa., was in Iraq seeking business for his communications company. His body was found May 8 near a highway overpass in Baghdad. He was last seen April 10 when he left his Baghdad hotel.
In Karbala, the U.S. military said it killed 18 fighters loyal to Sheik al-Sadr, who launched an uprising against the American-led coalition in early April and is wanted in the slaying of a rival moderate cleric last year. Hospital officials reported 12 deaths, including two Iranian pilgrims. A driver for the Arab television network Al Jazeera was also killed.
Much of the fighting in Karbala was near the city's Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines, which U.S. forces say are being used by militiamen as firing positions or protective cover.
At least six persons were killed and 56 were injured in fighting in Najaf and neighboring Kufa, where Sheik al-Sadr delivered a defiant sermon to 15,000 worshippers in which he urged his supporters to resist the coalition.
At a checkpoint in Kufa, American forces shot at a car carrying a close aide of Sheik al-Sadr, Mohammed al-Tabtabaei, injuring him and killing his driver, Sheik al-Sadr's office in Najaf said. Mr. al-Tabtabaei was taken into custody.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed Sheik al-Sadr's offices and detained 15 persons suspected of a bomb attack there, Reuters news agency reported.
Maj. William Southard told reporters weapons including hand grenades and guns were seized in the raid, which he said aimed to capture Abdulfatah al-Mousawi, Sheik al-Sadr's Kirkuk representative. Mr. al-Mousawi was not in the building.
Meanwhile 454 prisoners were released yesterday from the Abu Ghraib prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people are still believed held at the prison. The military is still sending detainees considered security risks to Abu Ghraib.
A convoy of at least six buses, accompanied by U.S. troops in armored vehicles and jeeps, took detainees to several areas, including Tikrit and Baqouba, north of the capital.
The release came as new photographs and shots from a video of reputed abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners were published in The Washington Post yesterday. The newspaper reported that some prisoners at Abu Ghraib were ridden like animals, fondled by female soldiers, forced to curse their religion and required to retrieve their food from toilets.
Some of those who freed yesterday told of beatings and psychological abuse. They kissed the ground and kneeled to pray after walking out of the police compound in Baqouba.
Abdul Salam Hussain Jassim, 18, said he was held for three months after an explosion.
"Don't even talk about torture. They destroyed me," he said.
The military periodically frees prisoners from Abu Ghraib, which was also notorious as the site of executions and torture during Saddam's regime.



05-23-04, 10:26 AM
U.S. Denies Report That General Saw Abuse <br />
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The U.S. military command on Sunday denied a report that the top U.S. general in Iraq was present during some interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison and...