MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- While the main body of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 was deployed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom II, the squadron’s remaining Marines were not idle. Now, after months of hard work and long hours, they are ready to welcome the squadron to its new home at the Cannon Air Defense Complex.
The main body of MWSS-371 deployed on Feb. 11. Shortly after, the remain-behind platoon, which is made up of Marines who couldn’t deploy for various reasons such as medical and legal issues, began moving the squadron’s gear into the complex.
The RBP varied in size over the past months, with as many as 165 and as little as 77 Marines. Some went forward, made permanent change of station moves or their end of active service arrived. Others returned from deployment with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, came back from Iraq on emergency leave or to PCS, EAS or retire. The platoon’s manpower went up and down.
But regardless of how many Marines the platoon had, it still had to perform its regular duties supporting the station and set up at the complex, which is also known as P-111. The set-up could only go so far though, as each shop will want to arrange itself when they return, said Gunnery Sgt. Melba Smith, the RBP staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
“We couldn’t set up their shops for them, but what we could do was make sure they have a shop to come back to – make sure they have desks and chairs, that their boxes are in the rooms they belong in; that was the extent of what they wanted us to do with their items,” said Smith, a Pharr, Texas, native.
The Marines regular duties included supporting the spring Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course and Exercise Desert Talon with heavy equipment and vehicles, conducting a wall-to-wall inventory of the squadron’s gear, and supporting the forward squadron with administration and supply items.
Smith said she was generally impressed with the performance of the Marines, especially considering the weight of the issues that kept them from deploying.
“Even through the issues, i.e. medical, legal, PCS and EAS, they have given the time and effort to keep the (remaining) squadron running and capable while the squadron has been deployed,” she said.
The platoon wanted to have as much done as possible at P-111 before the squadron returns.
“It’s important that everything is put back together so the unit doesn’t have to bust their (butts) when they get back,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Charles, a Crash Fire Rescue Marine and Buffalo, N.Y., native. “We need to have everything ready so we can just get right back into the swing of things.”
The squadron’s heavy equipment Marines in particular worked especially hard. They had to not only move the shop and maintain the machines, but also operate them and keep the paperwork. During and after WTI and Desert Talon, they worked long hours and weekends. They are looking forward to the squadron’s return, said Lance Cpl. Greg Tieman, HE mechanic and Phoenix native, who remained behind due to injuries he got in a motorcycle accident.
“I can’t wait for them to come back,” said Tieman. “We’ll have all our buddies back home safe, won’t have to work as hard and have shorter hours. You can’t beat it.”
Not all the squadron’s shops are moving to P-111. The Expeditionary Airfield Operations Company and the squadron’s CFR Marines will stay on station to be near the flightline.
The squadron’s barracks, Barracks 724 on station, were renovated during the deployment, so the Marines will have a new place to live as well as work. A shuttle service to transport Marines back and forth from the station to P-111 for work, chow and medical appointments will be provided through station funds and not interfere with the squadron’s mission, said Smith.
The Marines may have worked harder knowing that their fellow deployed Marines are in harm’s way.
“We’ve had a couple of Marines hurt (in Iraq) recently,” said Smith. “The Marines understand that, though it might be hard here, it could be a lot worse. Most of the Marines here have deployed before.”
The most important responsibility of the RBP, said Smith, is being able to react accordingly to injuries and deaths sustained forward “… so we can take care of the Marines and their families, because the families go through great turmoil during that time.
“We call parents; we call wives – whatever family members that are close to those Marines – if not on a daily basis then every third day,” Smith said. “It’s the follow-up care that they really appreciate.”
Family members were able to keep up with news of the squadron through the Key Volunteer Network, which published a monthly newsletter, and by calling an information line updated weekly by Col. John J. Broadmeadow, the squadron commanding officer.