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MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa

The Flying Tigers of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, Marine Aircraft Group 36, returned to the station Thursday from their first combat deployment since Vietnam.

The entire squadron of about 170 troops, along with about 30 members of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 36, deployed to Anbar province, Iraq, in January to provide assault support for Marines on the ground, said Lt. Col. Damien Marsh, executive officer, who returned last week to coordinate the squadron’s arrival.

“For seven months, these Marines worked with never a break, never a stop, never a rest ... and they never lost an aircraft,” he said. The only tragic note was the death of a Marine early in the deployment, he said.

“It was many of the Marines’ first time to go, and they performed magnificently,” he said.

A typical Okinawa-based squadron flies about 200 to 300 hours a month, but “we were averaging three times that,” Marsh said.

The squadron, which flies CH-46 Sea Knights, learned it was headed for Iraq while deployed for an exercise in the Philippines last October, Marsh said. Within 100 days, they had completed training in Yuma, Ariz., and were touching down in Iraq.

Marsh said the squadron’s rapid deployment helped earn its recent award from the Marine Corps Aviation Association. The squadron received the Edward C. Dyer Marine Medium Helicopter/Tiltrotor Squadron of the Year award for 2006.

But the squadron could not have deployed so quickly without the support of numerous agencies on Okinawa — and especially the Marines’ families, Marsh said.

More than 100 of those family members were on hand Thursday to greet their returning Marines.

The squadron couldn’t have arrived on a better day for Maria Johns, 29. On top of being reunited with her husband, Capt. Adam Johns, it was their son Gideon’s first birthday.

Another group eagerly awaiting the arrival of dads was the Wernegreen family. With four children, all 8 or younger, Meghann Wernegreen, 28, said she was especially happy to see her husband, Staff Sgt. John Wernegreen.

“There have been a lot of late nights and a lot of counting to 10,” she said.

Meghann Wernegreen is an old hand at this, though. She gave birth to their youngest daughter a year and a half ago, at the start of her husband’s previous deployment with a Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based unit.

The squadron and a volunteer network — with a lot of communication between the command and spouses — made this deployment easier, she said.

“It helps, always knowing what was going on,” she said.

Still it’s good that daddy’s home, she said.

“We’ve been missing bear hugs, dog piles and bedtime stories,” she said.

Mission stats

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — While deployed to Iraq, the Flying Tigers of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Here’s a look at their mission:

5,700

Hours flown

6,697

Assault support requests provided

25,252

Passengers moved

778,351

Pounds of cargo transported

50,472

Maintenance requests completed

97,006

Man-hours worked

13

Helicopter engines removed and/or replaced

Monthly averages

944

Hours flown on about 630 sorties

4,185

Passengers moved

129,020

Pounds of cargo transported

225

Hours of VIP support missions

Their rapid response missions included:

6

Immediate resupplies

3

Nighttime external-load resupplies

2

Detainee extracts

3

Casualty evacuations

1

Quick-reaction force insertion/extraction

Source: Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262

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