'To be part of history - there is no other feeling,' sez Iraq vet


Monday, August 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq - Sgt. Mike Dady is on his third tour in Iraq and he's ready for more.

"Some people go to work and construct buildings and drive by and can be proud of what they did with their two hands," said the 27-year-old Queens native. "But to be a part of something bigger, it gives you a whole other look on life.

"To be part of history - there is no other feeling," he said.

Dady enlisted in the Marines in 2002.

"I was working on the tugboats in Port Washington, L.I. Then 9/11 happened," he said. "I figured I could do some good."

Two years later he headed to Iraq to work as an aerial gunner on Huey attack helicopters with the 269th Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron.

Dady has been rotating between his current home in North Carolina and Iraq, doing seven-month tours with about five months off in between - though at least six weeks of those five months are spent training.

During a recent mission chasing down a corrupt Iraqi police chief in the nearby town of Hit, it was clear why Dady loves his job.

"One moment, it's peaceful, you can see the sun setting with the water [of the Euphrates River] below, but then you have the gun right in front of you and it reminds you where you are," he said.

He said he plans to reenlist after his current tour is up in the fall.

"I have put in a lot of sacrifice and hard work and I am proud of what I have done," said Dady, who grew up in Belle Harbor, Queens, and attended the Robert Vernam School in Arverne in the Rockaways before moving to Hempstead, L.I., then to Lowell, Mass.

And he's not the only one. Nearly all of his fellow Marines at the 269th HMLA are on their third or fourth tours in Iraq - and they're planning to come back.

Sgt. Michael Westgate, 25, of North Stonington, Conn., joined the Marines in 2000 and works on the flight line at Al Asad Air Base. He said he's more than willing to do a fifth tour here.

"I have a lot of family members that were in the Marines, so when I was a kid, I was brought up in the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars]," said Westgate, who is married with a 5-year-old daughter back home.

"I was raised by 50 men - all veterans from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam," he said. "To hear their stories, the way they talked, being here one time wouldn't be enough and four times wouldn't be enough to give back what they gave."

Capt. Lee Hemming, a Cobra helicopter pilot, said he'd come back for a fourth tour for those who didn't get to see war.

"There's a whole generation of Marines who didn't see combat," said the 30-year-old from Stafford, Vt. "It's like practicing and never getting to play a game. Here, you get to do your job and that's been rewarding."