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Marine light attack helicopter squadron answers call to duty

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The commanding officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 received a phone call from his higher headquarters in May. More attack helicopters were needed to support Marines and their coalition partners in southwestern Afghanistan in preparation of the fighting season.

Within a few weeks of receiving that phone call, the squadron disassembled its AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters and loaded them onto several cargo airplanes headed for Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

“The intent for us departing so quickly was to arrive in theater prior to the fighting season kicking off and having more close air support assets in theater,” said Lt. Col. Allen D. Grinalds, the squadron commanding officer, and a native of Augusta, Ga. “The compressed timeline [four weeks] from notification to departing the states was very quick.”

So with limited notice, nearly 100 Marines and sailors with HMLA-269 departed their homes at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., for a scheduled seven month deployment to Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan.

“It's been a really quick process of getting ready, deploying and finally getting here,” said Sgt. Maj. William Sweeney, the squadron’s sergeant major, and a native of Loveland, Colo. “But as Marines do, we accomplished the mission.”

Sweeney explained that the squadron's mission during the deployment will be to support ground troops and bring every Marine that deployed with the squadron home safely.

"I want to make sure that we do everything that is asked of us out here and when that’s finished to bring every Marine home," said Sweeney. "That's what we are here for, to support everyone on the ground."

During the deployment the squadron will provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as close air support and escort flights in support of Marine Corps, coalition and Afghan National Army operations.

"Some of our flights are to just let our presence be known," said Grinalds. "When Cobras are over head, things tend to get quiet."

The squadron could only bring a small detachment of Marines with it to Afghanistan, so Grinalds said he had to make the decision to leave more than three quarters of his squadron behind.

"Every Marine on this deployment raised their hands to come here," said Sweeney. ”Every single one of the Marines wants to be here.”

After just a week at their new home in Camp Dwyer, Grinalds said the squadron is settling into its deployed routine and adapting to their new duties.

"The deployment is going really well so far. I want to do anything I can to help the guys on the ground," said Lance Cpl. James Stokes, an aircraft ordnance technician with HMLA-269, and a native of New Bern, N.C. "The best part of the deployment is feeling like I'm a part of something bigger than myself, of course I miss my family back in the states, but this is where I'm supposed to be."

"I am very confident in my Marines. We worked very hard to get to this point," said Grinalds. "The mindset of my Marines is to take care of each other and accomplish the mission. They all feel very fortunate to be here and don't look at it as a sacrifice but rather as an honor."

Article by Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd)