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Sgt. Fred Villas, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-13 hydraulics mechanic, holds his daughter Emilie Villas, 2, May 19 at Marine Attack Squadron-311's hangar after a six-month deployment to Iraq.

Photo by Cpl. Giovanni Lobello

Tomcats and Black Widows arrive home to friends and family

26 May 2005 | Cpl. Giovanni Lobello

Friends and family greeted about 200 Marines and sailorsfrom Marine Attack Squadron-311 and 35 Marines from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-13 in the VMA-311 hangar when they returned to the station May 19.

The two squadrons returned from a six-month deployment to Iraq that started Nov. 13, 2004.

During that time, VMA-311 flew more than 5,000 successful combat hours. Both VMA-311 and MALS-13 participated in protecting the Iraqi elections and the Battle for Fallujah.

The Tomcats went the entire deployment without any mishaps caused by mechanical difficulties.

MALS-13 provided maintenance and supply support to Marine Air Control Squadron-16 until March, and then Marine Aircraft Group-26, before returning to the station.

"Any aircraft that was in the area, the Marines supported," said the Phoenix, Ariz., native,1st Lt. Carl Punzel, MALS-13 aviation supply officer. "In total, the Marines repaired over 220 aircraft. The Marines fixed ten different model series, ranging from the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters to FA-18 Hornets. In Yuma the Marines only deal with Harriers, so some of the Marines had probably never seen some of these aircraft before. But they adjusted and did an outstanding job out there."

In addition to what MALS-13 accomplished in Iraq, VMA-311 also invested a lot of work into the war on terror.

"We supported many operations throughout Iraq," said Maj. David Forrest, executive officer, VMA-311. "We went from Baghdad to Al Asad-any place with Marines, coalition forces and Iraqi forces, 311 flew in support."

This was one of the most successful deployments for VMA-311, added Forrest, a Freehold, N.J., native.

"We didn't lose any of our personnel or any aircraft during the deployment," said Forrest. "We didn't drop as much ordinance as we did the first time we went in  January of 2003   but it was just as intense and critical to the Marines on the ground."

In appreciation of all the Marines' hard work during the past six months, the Tomcats will enjoyed a 96-hour liberty earlier this week. The Marines will have another 96 during the Memorial Day weekend from Saturday through Tuesday.

The Marines are  not the only ones recoerving from the lengthy family seperation.

"This is the second time my husband has been gone and its been tough, but we made it," said Kim Nelson, the wife of Cpl. Bryan Nelson, VMA-311 avionics technician. "I spent a lot of quality time with my daughter, hung out with friends, went to church and spent some time with my cell group (from church). The first time my husband deployed I was pregnant and I did it all by myself. This time she was two and I didn't go as crazy as last time." 

Becky Tumbarello, wife of Lance Cpl. David Tumbarello, supply technician, MALS-13, also experienced a pregnancy on her own.

"I went through the whole pregnancy alone, but then I had a complicated delivery, which made it even harder to be alone," added Becky. "This was the first time he deployed and hopefully it will be the last for a while."

Now that the Marines are back, many are looking forward to taking leave and spending time with their family and friends before getting back to work.
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Marine Corps Air Station Yuma