MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Approximately 150 Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 returned to the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., Sept. 7, 2009, from a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan.
These Marines made up the first of three large MWSS-371 groups scheduled to return this year.
While on deployment, the squadron provided logistical and engineering support and constructed and maintained airfields for Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan forces, said Lt. Col. David Jones, squadron commanding officer.
The most significant contribution the squadron made was a 2.2 million square foot helicopter parking expansion at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, said Jones. The historic project was the largest airfield constructed of aluminum matting ever in a combat zone.
“It was a huge project,” said Cpl. Daniel Wallace, MWSS-371 motor vehicle operator. “Everyone was part of it somehow.”
The expanded airfield played a pivotal part of Operation Khanjar in July, the largest heliborne operation conducted by the Corps since Vietnam.
MWSS-371 arrived in Camp Bastion in March as the MEB-A’s first element in the country, said Jones. So, the squadron prepared for the arrival of additional Marine forces helping to ensure the air combat readiness in time for arrival of other squadrons.
While in Afghanistan the squadron also completed an AH-1W Super Cobra parking area at Camp Bastion, a C-130 Assault Strip and Unmanned Aircraft System Operation Strip at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, Afghanistan.
The strip at Dwyer quintupled the logistical recourses of personnel and supplies available to the base. Before, it took a convoy between 10-24 hours to bring materials down to the camp. Now materials can arrive in less than 30 minutes, said Sgt. Steven Rhoades, with Dwyer-based Regimental Combat Team 3.
In addition to their engineering and logistical duties, the squadron also provided all aircraft rescue and firefighting support, surveyed and improved helicopter landing zones throughout the area of operation and supplied rapid bulk fuel support to aircraft on missions, said Jones.
Even with all their achievements the Marines were happy to come back to Yuma.
The Marines arrived on station at noon and were bused to their armory to turn in weapons. They were then transported to the Sonoran Pueblo to reunite with their families and friends.
“I missed him so much,” said Wallace’s wife, Rachel. “We kept in touch with phone calls, letters, packages and MySpace.”
While being deployed can be a time of hardship, some look to positive experiences to remain upbeat.
“The best part of the deployment was when I was part of a convoy,” said Wallace. “When I was doing that I felt like I was really part of the effort.”
The Marine Corps deployed the MEB earlier this year to support NATO’s efforts to increase the security of the Afghani people and to build confidence in the Aug. 20, 2009, Afghanistan presidential elections.
Sgt. Scott Whittington contributed to this report.