Freedom's Warriors: Flying High, Semper Fi--Part III - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/11/06

Freedom's Warriors: Flying High, Semper Fi--Part III

What's it like to fly fast and high over Iraq? Most of us will never know, but some of our neighbors do it every day. It's just another day on the job that some say is the coolest in the world. Our Mike Manhatton's followed the troops on the ground for about a dozen deployments all over the world, but this time he visited Beaufort Marine aviators with VMFA 533 in al Asad, Iraq just west of Baghdad.

Mike's more accustomed to being with the grunts on the ground, jumping in a Humvee and rolling out through Baghdad or the desert around Tikrit. But there's no room for him and a camera in the cockpit of an F-18 Hornet. So we decided to let the Marines tell their story in the sky, in their own words.

Here's the transcript:

Cpl. Clay Duplantis: "There's not many people in this world who can say, 'I traveled to Iraq.'"

1st Lt. Erik Dickerson: "It is pretty cool. And you'd be surprised to see how much sand there actually is out there. If you're not around the water, there's not much out there."

Capt. Shane Bursae: "It's actually pretty neat, because Iraq is pretty unique. It has both desert and it has a river type of environment as well. It's got mountains to the north also. So you get to see a little bit of everything from the air, and their cities are very grouped together along the Euphrates, so that's pretty interesting to see also."

1st Lt. Kevin Crockett: "Some of the things we do, we'll fly out, we'll go out over a ground operation that's going on, maybe they're doing a raid somewhere. We'll provide over watch for them, be on call in case they need close air support. We'll go out, one of the things we do a lot around here is convoy escort. It's a huge logistical train that has to get things back and forth through this country, and we go out there and provide over watch for them, look on the road ahead and see if there's anything dangerous out there that we need to let 'em know about, and again, be on call if they need us."

Capt. John Bussard: "Two in the morning, what are we looking at? The big thing we're doing, no kidding, it's almost like being a traffic cop. We're out there just looking to make sure there's nobody out there.  Obviously there's a lot of curfews, so if we see people, we're kind of concerned with who they are. There are a lot of friendly units out there operating at night, so we don't just assume that somebody's the wrong person, we always try to verify what's going on. So the big challenge there is who's on the ground, and who we're looking at."

1st Lt. Kevin Crockett: "One of the thing about Marine aviation especially, we're focused on the guys on the ground. And just like all other aviation assets, we're really there just to provide the support for the guys on the ground who are doing the fighting during the war."

Cpl Clay Duplantis: "The way our aircraft and air crew can guide our infantrymen on the ground and tell them locations where they're going, and it's just an unbelievable thing."

Capt. John Bussard: "They can hear us, and actually, that's a big deterrent for us a lot of times at night. And that's one of the reasons we fly as much as we do. It's kind of a presence mission, they can hear us flying overhead, and that can keep people from doing the wrong thing sometimes. They can hear that and they know that we're able to see and they really can't tell where we are up there.

"Normal night missions, one of the big ones is escorting convoys."

1st Lt. Kevin Crockett: "You see lights all around, you can see other aircraft, especially with the night vision, you see aircraft maybe a hundred miles away."

Capt. John Bussard: "To make sure that the convoys can travel safely from point to point, since they're frequently targeted."

1st Lt. Kevin Crockett: "We go we get our airspace, keep a good lookout, make sure nothing's going to hurt us while staying focused on the ground."

Capt. John Bussard: "We go out and we make sure that nobody gets in trouble."

1st Lt. Kevin Crockett: "It's a lot of fun."

1st Lt. Erik Dickerson: "I tell you what, I think I have the best job out here so far. We get to come out here, we get to fly the Hornet, and support the young Marines on the ground."

Cpl. Clay Duplantis: "I'll tell this much, a lot of people wonder if we should be out here. We definitely need to be out here. There's people out here that want to kill Americans and hate our way of life."

1st Lt. Kevin Crockett: "I just think if they know we're here, doing what we can to help this country move forward and move past the problems that they're going through right now, and the problems of the past, just trying to do our best, and come home as soon as we can, safely."

Cpl. William Lloyd: "I do it so others do not have to. I think that's good enough."

One more thing to remember. The Marines are rotating through al Asad. So the Hawks replaced another Beaufort squadron. And when their six months are up, there could well be another group of Marines headed right back to the sandbox.

Reported by: Mike Manhatton, mmanhatton@wtoc.com

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