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By air, sea or land - TQ warriors fight as one

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
The only sound resonating in the silent, desert air was that of Old Glory, blowing in the wind with the 'eagle, globe and anchor,' gently rustling below and the clanking of the flag's cleat against the flagpole. Suddenly, the silence was broken with the commanding voice of a barrel-chested man, who shouted, "Sound retreat!"

A company of Marines stood tall at attention, like solid statues, as the music played. Through the sandy air, the figures of Airmen seemed to appear as speckles among a sea of Marine Corps uniforms. Could the desert heat cause such an illusion?

Not likely.

Living and working, and often laughing and bleeding along side the Marines assigned to Marine Corp Air Base Al Taqaddum, Iraq, known by many as 'TQ,' are nearly 50 Airmen, half of which hail from Dover Air Force Base.

Still, other than the uniforms they wear, there is little to no differentiation between the TQ Airmen and Marines.

"We are integrated and part of the team here," said Master Sgt. Peggy Spence, 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Detachment 4 superintendent and acting first sergeant, who hails from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron at Dover AFB.

Sergeant Spence's Marine counterpart agrees.

"The Air Force in TQ does an outstanding job," said Gunnery Sgt. Jaimie Kilroy, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group Landing Support Detachment chief. "We have an unmatched (amount of passengers) and cargo, that runs flawlessly on a daily basis. The Air Force leadership provides sound decision making and the crew on the ground executes without hesitation."

"We work together as if interaction between the units has existed for years," explained the gunnery sergeant, who is seasoned in joint-service operations and still overwhelmed by the manner in which the assigned Airmen assimilated into the Marine environment. "I have worked with numerous Air Force commands, and 332nd ELRS Detachment 4, is the most proficient and professional."

Sergeant Spence is determined to maintain that very image, she said.

"Our Airmen are firing on the range with the Marines, receiving Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training and even some are enrolled in Marine Corp's professional military education," said Sergeant Spence.

Sergeant Spence's Airmen are attending the Marine's Corporal's Course on-station at TQ. The course is similar to Airman's Leadership School, but adds a Marine Corps twist.

"They hit on some of the same stuff you'd learn in ALS, like mentoring and counseling," said Senior Airman Daniel Levindofske, 332nd ELRS, who is deployed from Travis AFB, Calif. "Also, they covered brand new subjects for me, like offensive and defensive tactics. We learned how to attack an enemy and to prevail in ground combat. We learned weapons, drill and ceremony, reading and navigating maps and calling in close air support."

Despite the differences in curriculum and her Airmen never receiving prior training in many of the Marine-specific areas covered, 'the few and the proud' Airmen of the 332nd ELRS are doing very well in Corporal's Course, explained Sergeant Spence.

"I think the young Airmen have benefited from (the course) a lot," said the only Air Force senior NCO on station. "Our Airman volunteer and go through the whole thing right along side their Marine counter parts. They have a lot to grasp, with customs and services, but have managed to not only complete the course - to do outstanding!"

Though on a daily basis, Sergeant Spence and her Airmen are living the life of Marines, the Air Force and Team Dover are never far from mind, she said.

"The missions Dover aircraft fly have a huge impact here daily - lives are saved," said Sergeant Spence. "There is an ever present danger of (improvised explosive devices) here, which threaten the Marines and all servicemembers when they are out on the roads. With Dover's airlift mission, we get the cargo to the fight quickly and safely."

When Dover brings cargo to TQ, it is bringing it to a very busy operation, said Gunnery Sergeant Kilroy.

"Operations (at TQ) consist of deploying and re-deploying members of the armed forces, civilians and third country nationals throughout the Multi-National Force West area of responsibility," explained the gunnery sergeant, who is deployed from Combat Logistics Company 21, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, Cherry Point, N.C.

The busy operations often require the joint expertise of the assigned Airmen and Marines.

"Both services benefit from the working relationship we have and the hard work that both branches put in everyday," said Gunnery Sergeant Kilroy. "We work together on 65 percent of the billets here so there is always interaction. (It's) not about how each branch benefits - (it's) that the mission is successful here for what is done in a joint effort."

Some of the innovative practices Sergeant Spence's deployed unit has created are nothing short of revolutionary, she said. The airlifts from Dover and other bases bring cargo to her operation. She, in turn, uses 'new' means to move the cargo to the battle lines.

"We have what is called the Tender First program here," Sergeant Spence said, referring to her unit's utilization of civilian transport companies to provide ground transport of goods and equipment throughout Iraq. "We have become so efficient at utilizing this program that between the months of September and December 2007, we had a cost avoidance of nearly $190 million."

"Additionally, we were able to release four assigned C130's back to the states, relieving burdens on their home-station, U.S.-based aircrews," she added.

Though living the life of a Marine took mentorship from fellow TQ Marines, Sergeant Spence thanks the training she received while stationed at Dover for her keen ability to perform effective aerial port-operation duties in Iraq, she said.

"I think you have an outstanding opportunity to learn your job and learn it well at Dover because (Dover Air Force Base) is so busy," explained Sergeant Spence. "However, we have folks from several bases working together here and they are all outstanding young men and women."

For Sergeant Spence, every day in the Air Force is great day. This deployment to TQ with the Marines taught her that their feelings toward their branch of service are as passionate as hers.

"My daily life in the Marine Corps is a day of freedom for someone back in the states, or in a country we are helping," said Gunnery Sergeant Kilroy. "I have been on active duty for 13 years and I have been challenged in every way. I love what I do and it definitely is not for the money!"

Prior to her arrival at TQ, Sergeant Spence imagined service rivalry to be an issue for the men and women stationed there. However, once she put boots on the sand there, she realized that was not the case.

"Sometimes lines are drawn in Air-Force blue or Marine-Corps green," said Sergeant Spence describing the service-related rivalries she has seen previously in her career. "Still, sometimes a line is drawn together - one mission, one fight, one win. This very feeling resounds in me and I know it does in my friend, Gunny Kilroy, as well."

It surely does.

"I've been working with the Air Force for years," said Gunnery Sergeant Kilroy. "I have never had issues (with Airmen). They are very easy to work with and have always been more than willing to help out in any situation. We all get along as one big happy family."

The fact the TQ family is happy is a bonus for the Airmen and Marines deployed there. However, their priority is and remains the mission at hand, said Sergeant Spence. And, with lives saved, Marines equipped, money saved and the TQ family happy, the mission is successful.