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Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kuckuk, commanding officer, Marine Attack Squadron 311 speaks at his change of command ceremony, Feb. 28. Kuckuk takes command of a squadron who is three months into a six month deployment in Iraq.

Photo by Cpl. Alicia Garcia

'Tomcats' change commanders amidst combat operations

4 Mar 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Colonel Clyde M. Woltman relinquished command of Marine Attack Squadron 311 to Lt. Col. Robert C. Kuckuk during a change of command ceremony here Feb. 28.

Kuckuk assumed command halfway through the squadron’s six-month deployment and takes over a squadron that has flown more than 4,000 flight hours in the first 100 days of their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I have done everything a commanding officer would want to do with his squadron,” Woltman said. “I took over this squadron after it was split up between a ship and a (Marine Expeditionary Unit).  I wanted to bring this squadron into one cohesive unit and prepare them for war.”

Woltman’s long-term goal turned into a short-term one when, just after assuming command VMA-311 he was tasked with replacing another Harrier squadron in Iraq.

“All of my goals I had for this squadron needed to be accomplished in a very short amount of time, but we caught a break and the deployment passed without us having to go,” Woltman said. “Our next scheduled deployment was this OIF mission here.  That gave us 10 months to train our young squadron and get ready for war.”

The ‘Tomcats’ came to Iraq with the highest qualifications for all of their Marines and aircrew and it showed as soon as they hit the ground in Al Asad, according to Woltman.

“Within hours of our arrival we already had our unit completing sorties and working on the mission,” Woltman said.  “We had a seamless transition when we got here.  We absorbed two Harrier detachments that were here, which made us a squadron plus for a while with 22 jets.”

The hard work of VMA-311 has already yielded a few tangible results.

“It’s good for our Marines to see what their hard work leads to,” Woltman said. “The decline of insurgent activity in Fallujah and the elections are just two events that our Marines can see they helped and are making a difference.”

The only goal Woltman will not be able to accomplish with the ‘Tomcats’ is to reunite them with their families after a successful deployment.

“I have been able to bring the squadron together, train them for combat and have taken them to war successfully,” Woltman said.  “The only thing I regret is I won’t be able to bring them home safely to their families and friends.”

While Woltman says goodbye he leaves his combat-tested team to Kuckuk, who has served as the squadron executive officer for the past month.

“I am very fortunate to inherit this combat-proven, cohesive squadron,” said Kuckuk.  “This squadron is as good as they can get.”

When the squadron returns to Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Ariz., Kuckuk will have to begin a transition period for the ‘Tomcats.’

“In the summer we will loose a bunch of Marines and new ones will join and we will begin the process of retraining and preparing for the next deployment down the road,” Kuckuk said.  “That’s what we do, it’s a cycle all squadrons go through.  We prepare for deployments, deploy, loose Marines after the deployment and retrain the Marines who replace our experienced workers.”

Although Kuckuk has only been the executive officer for VMA-311 for one month, he is already familiar with the ‘Tomcats.’  While serving as the operations officer for Marine Aircraft Group 16, Kuckuk would train with the ‘Tomcats’ on a regular basis.

“I know this squadron pretty well already,” Kuckuk said. “ Just recently I’ve been really hands-on, getting to know the Marines. I hope I can come in here and accomplish half of what (Woltman) has done with this squadron. If I can do that then I will consider this a successful tour. ”

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