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Pacific edition, Thursday, August 16, 2007

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — Winning a Marine Corps Aviation Association award sounds a triumphant final note for a Marine Air Control Group 18 unit scheduled to deactivate by the end of September, group leaders said Tuesday.

The group’s 1st Stinger Battery, based at Futenma and currently deployed to Iraq’s Anbar province, recently garnered the association’s 2006 Edward S. Fris Air Command/Control Unit of the Year award, said Maj. Matt Culbertson, the group’s operations officer.

“It’s really just the appropriate tribute to those great young Marines … to the small unit leaders and the individual Marines,” Culbertson said Tuesday.

During the award period, the battery conducted several live-fire Stinger missile exercises, firing 76 Stinger missiles in a six-month period, according to the award nomination package.

Battery Marines and sailors also deployed to South Korea for last year’s Ulchi Focus Lens; to the Philippines for exercise Talon Vision; to stateside bases for additional training; and to Camp Fuji, Japan, the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and then to Iraq.

“We’re proud of (the battery) winning this award,” said Lt. Col. Michael Ahern, the group’s executive officer, “but we’re more proud of the things they have been doing in the desert.”

The battery of about 150 Marines and Navy corpsmen deployed to Iraq in February, relieving Battery I, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines, a reserve battery based in Reading, Pa.

Since then, the battery has been conducting security operations and is scheduled to return to Okinawa soon, said Culbertson.

Upon returning from Iraq, the unit will deactivate as part of the Marine Corps’ force structure realignment, ending 25 years of service at the station.

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