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Cobras soar through skies of Iraq, support Marines on ground

Nov. 24, 2005; Submitted on: 11/25/2005 08:35:39 AM ; Story ID#: 2005112583539

By Cpl. Cullen J. Tiernan 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

Al Qaim, Iraq, 24 November 2005 — Marines flying AH-1W Super Cobras, soaring through the skies of Iraq, are growing accustomed to using precision guided ordnance, maximizing the damage to their targets while minimizing collateral damage.

Since arriving in western Iraq during September, the Gunfighters of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 have continuously dropped precision guided ordnance on the enemy in support of ongoing operations. The Gunfighters, from Al Qaim, Iraq, dropped their 100th precision-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missile, November 17.

“We are destroying target after target in support of ground combat brethren,” said Maj. John Barranco, the officer-in-charge of the Gunfighters’ Al Qaim detachment and a Boston native. “It’s been rare to have a day go by without contact with the enemy. We have a lot of young Cobra pilots. Some are on their first deployment, some are seeing combat for the first time. But, they are all doing a tremendous job.”

The Cobra is a flying arsenal. Besides Hellfires, the Gunfighters’ pilots said they have utilized the .20 mil. turret gun, which fires semi-armor piercing, high explosive incendiary rounds, and eliminated the enemy threat on the ground with 5 and 2.75 inch rockets. However, the pilots stressed they are primarily using the Hellfire, because it is so precise.

Barranco said Lt. Dean Oltman, a Cobra pilot with the Gunfighters, shot five Hellfire missiles during one of his first flights here, five times more than he had shot before.

“It shows great courage to be able to do that while being shot at in combat,” said Barranco. “Oltman is just one example, all of our lieutenants flying Cobras under the same stress are continually doing a great job.”

Barranco stressed that the Cobra pilots would not be able to fire precision guided ordnance, supporting the Marines on the ground, without amazing Marines on the maintenance level, working day and night to keep the Cobras in the air.

“When the Cobras return, after firing their missiles, you really feel that all your hard work is worth it,” said Lance Cpl. Doug Johnson, an ordnanceman with the Gunfighters and a Houston native. “In a 24-hour period, we shot 10 precision guided missiles in support of Operation Steel Curtain in Husaybah. With the Hellfires, they are taking out enemy buildings, as well as improvised explosive devices.”

Johnson said he enjoys when things get busy and he is constantly working because he knows when the Cobras kill insurgents, they’re saving Marines and innocent civilian lives.

“We use the Hellfires a lot on insurgents in buildings,” said Capt. Aaron Haines, a Cobra pilot with the Gunfighters and a Woodland Park, Colo., native. “Forward air controllers call in the coordinates, we locate it with sensors on the Cobra and blow the target up.”

Haines said the Cobra pilots’ primary missions are close air support for the Marines on the ground and providing security for casualty evacuations.

“We have been very successful supporting current operations from Al Qaim,” said Haines. “There is more shooting going on here anywhere else in Iraq. The cold weather only gives our birds more power, nothing slows us down.”

The Gunfighters throughout Iraq are thriving while facing combat on a daily basis. Although their morale is high, they have also experienced the dark side of this war. One of their Cobras crashed, November 2, killing pilots Capt. Mike Martino and Maj. Jerry Bloomfield.

“Whenever I look at a Cobra, I’m reminded of them,” said Sgt. Brainard D. Shirley, the Gunfighters’ airframes collateral duty quality assurance representative and a Kirtland, New Mexico, native. “To me, their sacrifice represents all of us. The causes we believe in and freedom we are trying to help these people achieve. It makes us want to push harder to do the best job we can to keep these aircraft flying.”

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