"Rangers" roger up for 11th MEU (SOC) deployment

25 Nov 2002 | 1stLt. Carrie C. Batson

In early January, Steven J. McCullough, an airplane systems instructor for American Eagle airlines, was teaching a class when he was interrupted by an important telephone call. It was a U.S. Marine on the other end of the line, looking for a Marine reservist by the name of Staff Sgt. Steven McCullough. The Marine continued to talk, and within a matter of minutes, Steven McCullough learned the news."When I got off the phone, I said 'I need someone to take over the class because I need to go NOW!'"McCullough, a reserve flight engineer for KC-130T cargo airplanes, had just received word he was being activated back into the active forces. The Marine Corps needed him and his squadron, the VMGR-234 "Rangers," based out of Ft. Worth, Texas, to help fight the War on Terrorism. McCullough and 70 other Marines from the squadron's Detachment "A" had five days before reporting to active duty. A month later, some would be deployed to Afghanistan in support of combat missions against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Within a matter of months, all 70 Marines would find themselves deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) to the U.S. Central Command region of operations in support of the same cause-- Operation Enduring Freedom. Although the activation was involuntary, the Marines from Det. "A" weren't complaining. "Nobody wants to be home when everything is happening over here. If something is going on, we want to be a part of it," McCullough said.Talk to almost anyone, and you'll get the same response. When it comes to serving their country, it's hard to find a Marine who wouldn't volunteer for a chance to forward deploy. "Two-thirty-four gave me the great opportunity to jump onboard and be involved in what's happening over here," explained Sgt. Bryan T. Purcell, navigator, VMGR-234, 11th MEU (SOC), and a flight instructor at a private flying school in San Diego, Calif.There can be no dispute that maintaining a forward presence in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility plays an important role in the global war against terrorism in the region. And for these reservists, the reason behind the deployment hits close to home. Most, if not all, VMGR-234 Marines have full-time jobs within the aviation community-- an industry severely affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001. "My (civilian co-workers) are proud to know I am over here. I get e-mails all the time from them. I've been taking pictures of the (American) Eagle flag, so they can see part of their team taking part in it," explained McCullough.In September 2001, VMGR-234 became the first reserve squadron in the Marine Corps to win the Commandant's Aviation Trophy for excellence in performance of mission accomplishment. In September 2002, the "Rangers" were awarded the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron of the Year award for, once again, superior performance in their duties. The squadron Marines attribute this success to a team mentality and the fact they are reservists."The skills we have learned in our civilian jobs... You can incorporate that into that military job," McCullough states. In fact, for many it is a conscious action. Major Ronald I. Johnson, a KC-130T pilot who flies with Delta Airlines, agrees. "We ask ourselves, 'How can I bring the skills I've learned (in my civilian job) into helping the squadron?'"Earlier this year, Johnson was awarded the Army Air Medal for missions he flew in Northern Afghanistan in support of the Army's Operation Anaconda, hauling fuel to forward operating for Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters. The wealth of experience found in Det. "A"-- most of the Marines have nine to 12 years active-duty experience in addition to knowledge gained in the civilian sector of aviation-- does not go unnoticed among the few active duty personnel assigned to the reserve squadron. For these active-duty Marines, they witness how some skills learned in the civilian sector help to enhance unit performance. "I've been active duty my whole time in the Marine Corps," said Sgt. Donald M. Morris, a crew chief and one of the few active duty personnel assigned to the reserve squadron. "When I got there, they showed me a different side of things. I mean, if it's working for the civilian airlines, than something has got to be right."For example, commercial co-pilots call out the plane's airspeed as it accelerates down the runway before take off. This allows the flying pilot to cross check the instruments on his side of the cockpit to see if everything matches up before he is committed to flying. Marines from Det. "A" have adopted this technique, bringing an additional safety measure to the squadron.Not only are these Marines from Det. "A" proud to be make a positive contribution to the unit, they are also proud to be serving their country and the 11th MEU (SOC). "We've got a great dynamic. I get to go to different places and do a job I was trained for. I like the people I work with. We have a real world mission," said SSgt. Joseph M. Sagastume, a flight mechanic who works for American Airlines as a engine shop supervisor. "I do the reserves for a reason... I'm in it for the sheer satisfaction of serving my country... And I think it's essential that everybody know the reserves are up and capable of supporting any active-duty component. And willing."

Marine Corps News

Colonel Jim W. Lively
Commanding Officer

Colonel Lively is a native of Dallas, Texas. He received his commission in 1996 through the Platoon Leaders Course program after graduating from Texas A&M University with a BA in Psychology.

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Lieutenant Col. Le E. Nolan
Executive Officer

Lieutenant Colonel Nolan is a 2001 graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology and received his commission through Officer Candidate Class 180. After completing flight training as a CH-53E pilot, he reported to HMH-361 in MCAS Miramar.

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Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarrĀ enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.

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11th Marine Expeditionary Unit