USS IWO JIMA, Arabian Gulf --
"It's game time, you know?"
Nearly six months ago Lance Cpl. Rachel Myers, CH-53E Super Stallion air frames mechanic with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein.), said these words in anticipation of what was ahead.
Having just arrived in Iraq she and the rest of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Black Knights had no idea what lay in their future, but were ready for anything.
Myers and more than 50 fellow Marines returned to the USS Iwo Jima Feb. 18, just in time as the MEU prepares to redeploy back to the U.S. During their six-month mission, they supported Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 conducting operations based in Al Asad.
"I honestly didn't know what to expect, it was my first time there," Myers explained. "I knew there was going to be a lot of dirt, I expected a lot of dirt, and that expectation was fully met."
"I thought it was going to be uncomfortable living in Al Asad, but when we got out there it was like going to any other base," added Cpl. Daniel Templin, CH-53E air frames mechanic.
While in Iraq the detachment transported personnel, cargo, fuel, food and water, said Gunnery Sgt. John Dyer, CH-53E detachment staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. They also conducted remote ground refueling for other aircraft, assumed a new battle station, and conducted raid operations.
Without those resupply missions the troops on the ground and in the air would not have been able to stay in the fight for as long as they did, he explained.
"The use of the aircraft was employed to support ground forces, vehicles, and in many different ways that you can employ the CH-53E," Dyer said.
Even though the living conditions were better compared to what they may have expected, the Marines didn't have much time to enjoy them.
"In 189 days I put in over 3,000 hours of work on those aircraft and I broke it down and it came out to 15.88 hours a day," Myers said.
Their hours were long, but were far from unnoticed.
"For me personally it was just the deployment of a lifetime," said Maj. Scott Wadle, the HMM-264 CH-53E detachment commander. "One of the things I enjoyed the most, quite frankly, was just being able to watch my Marines do what they do and do it so well."
The 26th MEU deployed in August 2008 and is currently on the tail end of its '08-'09 deployment.