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Marines return home from Afghanistan
On Sunday morning, 200 Marines with the Attack Squadron 214 and Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 arrived back at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma after seven months in Afghanistan. They left Yuma on Mother's day back in May.
The Marines were met by joyful wives, sweethearts and offspring who have been counting the days until their return.
While in theater, the Marines operating out of Kandahar Air Base and Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan flew more than 3,000 combat hours, 1,374 missions and dropped more than 20,000 pounds of ordnance.
Lance Corporal Gregory Aalto, a journalist at MCAS Yuma, deployed with the Marines to cover their part of the conflict in Afghanistan. After 36 hours of traveling, he was glad to be back in Yuma, albeit a little sleep deprived. He said Afghanistan is a world best described as existing in a far bygone era.
"The place is so poor you have take a step back in time, you can’t even compare it, there is no relation to anything you can even think of, even in the most (impoverished areas) here," he said.
"They have clay houses with roofs that have fallen out but they just live with it because they don't have more mud yet. It is hard to describe, there is a whole 'nother level."
Aalto said sand storms were a regular occurrence.
"It's more of a constant thing. You think of southern New Mexico, and triple that, and it's all the time. Nobody ran, you couldn’t, you really can't describe it unless you see it. I mean the worst dust storms (in Yuma) on the worst days here are the best days there. It is the dirtiest place you could ever imagine."
Aalto found it nearly impossible to stay clean.
"This was washed three days before I left,” he said as he pointed at the rim of his hat, which was besought with sand that has embedded itself deeply into the fiber.
"This place, your face is dirty before you wake up. You can shower and you are already dirty. It's dirty-dusty, dusty-dirty."
Despite the horrible conditions, the harrier crews were able to keep the fighters in tip-top shape allowing the pilots to maintain a perfect flying schedule.
According to the Marine Corps, they were the only squadron under the MAG-40 to make mission every month.
"The pace of flights... it set a world record," Aalto said.
"There were 5,500 flights a week and the record was 5,200. As far as harriers go, they set their own records. They flew more than 3,500 flight hours, and a normal unit in an entire years only does 2,200, so in half a year they did 1,300 more than on average, and they did it all in worse conditions than Iraq."
According to Aalto, the base the Marines were stationed at came under indirect fire at least once or twice every other week.
"Yeah, we came under mortar fire pretty regularly," he said. "Only one or two would come down at a time, and they were only doing it as a nuisance. It was a hassle."
Aalto said, the enemy combatants would keep well out of sight, and blind fire their rounds.
"Exactly. They don't even know what they are aiming at. (The Marine Corps) actually showed us in IED ( improvised explosive device) class what they do. They just cross sticks and throw an old Chinese 107 millimeter rocket (on it), and it's just like the Fourth of July for them. They don't do it as an offensive assault, it's just a... nuisance that every night at 10 p.m. you have go down into the bunker and stand around and be hassled."
According to Aalto, many of the bombing runs were in order to obliterate the burgeoning drug trade.
"The majority of the bombs were dropped on poppy fields and drugs," he said. "They weren’t necessarily dropped on human beings. At one point they got two tons of (the opiate) at a bazaar. They take it out into the field which is more desolate than the Barry M. Goldwater range, and the harriers drop their payload."
Aalto said the Marines spent the rest of their time supporting foot soldiers in active combat.
"There were offensive attacks on targets, and also to assist the ground troops, not always with bombs, but they also have a Gatling gun on front of the harrier. They can really take care of business with that."
Aalto said his time in Afghanistan has really given him food for thought.
"There were a lot of good personal experiences and I got to meet a lot of different people and do a lot of different things to expand my horizons."
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.