CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- In an effort to ensure Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 Marines remember why they are deployed, the squadron has adopted one of New York Fire Department’s most decorated ladder companies that was heavily involved during the rescue attempts at the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001.
The squadron, which is comprised of AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1Y Hueys and tasked with providing air support to Marines and their coalition and Afghan partners, began its current deployment in southern Afghanistan during the beginning of November.
During HMLA’s deployment, in addition to communicating with the “Green Berets” of Engine 60, Ladder 17, a company that has been awarded 18 Department Medals for Valor and more than 20 unit citations since 1970, at the conclusion of the squadron’s shift change briefs, Lt. Col. Garrett Hoffman, commanding officer, HMLA-169, announces the name and shows the photograph of a fallen firefighter who lost his life on 9/11. He then ends the brief by saying two simple words, “Never forget.”
The squadron also has one additional tribute to the ladder company and to all New York City Fire Department members. Marines with the corrosion control section developed and painted a mural on the side on a Super Cobra to honor New York City’s Fire Department and to help ensure the squadron’s Marines and anyone who sees the aircraft patrol the Afghan sky remembers why they are deployed.
“We took an actual picture of the New York skyline prior to 9/11, and then scaled the photo,” said Sgt. Micheal Morgan, the corrosion control noncommissioned officer in charge. “Then we built a model to see how it would look on the (aircraft) and eventually hand painted the image on the actual (helicopter).”
The process took the corrosion control section approximately one week to complete. While the Marines in the section are proud of their work, they understand the importance and bigger picture of the message behind it.
“It serves as a reminder to everyone in the squadron and anyone who sees the aircraft,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob Estrada, a corrosion control Marine with the squadron. “Not only is it a reminder of why we are here, but it is also definitely a morale booster and motivator for everyone.”
“Sometimes when you are (working on the flightline), you forget exactly where you are,” said Lance Cpl. Philip Shands, a corrosion control Marine. “Now, every time you see that aircraft you remember where you are and why you are here.”
The mural painted on the aircraft is also intended to serve as a reminder to all Marines throughout Helmand province of the important role each of them plays.
“Not only does the aircraft represent the New York City emergency responders, it also reminds Marines of what we are fighting for here in Afghanistan,” said Capt. Gregory Butler, the corrosion control officer in charge and a Super Cobra pilot. “Regardless what a Marine does while deployed, whether he is working on the flightline, is an administrator or patrolling the streets, everyone plays a vital role.”
The squadron has approximately four months remaining in Afghanistan and will continue to support and pay tribute to Engine 60, Ladder 17 and the New York City Fire Department throughout their deployment, and the Super Cobra will continue to patrol the Afghan sky reminding Marines of why they are here.