Photo Information

Hit, Iraq (September 8, 2005)-- Marines with Company "I", 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines watch as bomb called in by Sgt. Aaron J. Maxwell, a tactical air control party chief and his team successfully hits its target. (Official USMC Photo by Corporal Ken Melton)

Photo by Cpl. Ken Melton

Fort Collins, Colo., native “cleared hot” in Iraq

25 Sep 2005 | Cpl. Ken Melton

As insurgents continue to launch attacks on multinational forces, Marines continue to beat them back using every means possible to include close air support.

While calling in air strikes on targets may seem like something out of a movie, for Sgt. Aaron J. Maxwell, a tactical air control party chief, it is his life.

Maxwell, a member of Albuquerque, N.M.’s 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, has helped fight the insurgency while working with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment by making sure the ground troops have an ‘eye in the sky.’

“If something happens to the squad and they need a clear route back to their base we can help them,” said the Fort Collins, Colo., native.

Besides helping with patrol routes, he also calls in for shows of military force, keeps track of the air schedule and stays in direct contact with any aircraft assigned to the unit. This allows him to point out friendly troops and suspicious areas in the city to the aircraft overhead.

If an air strike is required, he considers the bombs destructive force to avoid collateral damages, proportionality and positive identification, before "clearing hot" to use the ordnance.

Recently he played a pivotal part in the surveillance of a car bomb and the extraction of the Marines it separated.

“We were looking for any targets and giving out all the friendly positions when we noticed a vehicle on a bridge. It exploded right after,” the 22-year-old said. “Soon after that we received word that Marines were on other side of the bridge, so we scrambled to extract them. The helicopters gave them cover until they could be extracted.

“It felt good to have a chance to help save those Marines’ lives.”

While he often calls in the bombs and some casualty evacuations for Multi-National Force members, he has even had to call in for an evacuation of an insurgent.

“We received information from our tip line of a man having a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) and when we got there he was still setting it up so they engaged him,” the 2001 graduate of Los Lunas High School in N.M. said.  “They had wounded him and he surrendered so they had to call in for medical attention for him.

“It felt awkward helping someone who was trying to kill us, but we had accomplished our mission and could not let someone suffer after they were defeated. That’s what separates us from them.”

Maxwell even helped navigate a squad to an insurgent’s house after one of their forward operation bases took fire.

“After they were attacked, I contacted a section of F-18s who were running ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) in the area and gave them the description of the vehicle and the direction they were heading. They found a vehicle that matched the description and followed it to a house,” Maxwell said. “Then I gave the information to the watch officer and requested a squad to check out the house. The air units continued to survey the house until the squad arrived.”

After searching the house, they ran a gun residue test on the men inside. They detained two men who tested positive. Another great example of how air and ground work together to accomplish the mission.

Since this past spring, his job as being “the link between the ground and the air” has enabled him to travel all over the Al Anbar province helping saves lives and fight the insurgency.

His versatile job allowed him to work with all different types of jobs and people, something he says he will never forget. As he is always ready for his next mission, he looks forward to one more ... the journey home.

“After I found out I was deploying this year, I set two goals for myself. First was to leave Iraq knowing that I did my best to complete my mission,” he paused smiling. “The other is to take my favorite actress, Elisha Cuthbert, to my Marine Corps Ball. However, I am happy knowing that I did my job damaging the insurgency and helping save Marines’ lives.”