AL ASAD, Iraq -- With operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations around the globe the Marine Corps’ operational tempo is at an all time high. Proof is in the deployment schedule of Marine Aircraft Group 13 based at Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Ariz.
Every squadron in MAG-13 has deployed to Iraq at least one detachment in the past year to support the Global War on Terrorism.
It all started in February last year when the AV-8B+ Harrier community put elements of Marine Attack Squadrons 214 and 542 here to provide air support for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
“Before February 2004 there was no fixed wing aircraft plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom II,” said Lt. Col. Robert Kukuck, commanding officer Marine Attack Squadron 311 and former MAG-13 operations officer. “It was decided that fixed wing assets could serve a valuable purpose in Iraq.”
In July 2004, three months after arriving, Marine Attack Squadron 214 left Iraq for Yuma and was replaced by the VMA-214s fixed wing asset with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The MEU had come ashore and assumed part of the fixed wing responsibilities for the Marine Corps. Teaming up with the existing detachment of Harriers from ‘542 the MEUs Harriers complimented the detachment, creating a full squadron. This was the first complete Harrier squadron in country since the end of major combat operations was announced in 2003.
The growing number of aircraft for VMA-542 wasn’t stopping. In October, the commanding officer welcomed the Harriers of the 31st Expeditionary Unit. The arrival of these jump jets brought the number of aircraft in one squadron to 22.
As all deployments begin, they all come to an end. With a homecoming awaiting them, the Tigers flew their last mission in Iraq in November. With large “paws” to fill the Tomcats of VMA-311 replaced the footprint left by ‘542 and assumed control of the Harrier supporting missions throughout the Al Anbar province.
“The actual integration of the detachments was immediate and efficient,” said Col. Clyde M. Woltman, former commanding officer, VMA-311. “This was the case since the 11th MEU’s VMA-214 and the 31st MEU’s 211detachments along with VMA-311 had all been MAG-13 units. While in garrison we had established working relationships with each other and had been following the same policies, directives and standard operating procedures. I placed a majority of the integration on the shoulders of our staff non-commissioned officers. In typical fashion they made it happen.”
Shortly after the arrival of VMA-311, the 22 aircraft squadron with 315 Marines, sailors and civilians were in the beginning of a fast-paced work cycle flying 24-hours a day in support of the Fallujah offensive and the Iraqi elections in January.
“The strength of the Marine Corps is our ability to ‘task organize,’” Woltman said. “We did just that. The unit was larger, but so were our operational demands. It was business as usual. The team flexed as required and accomplished the mission.”
A day after the Iraqi elections the two MEU detachments left VMA-311, leaving the ‘Tomcats’ to operate by themselves for a month.
“It was sad to see the detachments leave, but it was their time,” Woltman said. “They had performed admirably. Upon their departure our operational tempo dropped proportionally and we continued business as usual.”
In March of this year, the final MAG-13 unit arrived in Iraq with the deployment of VMA-513’s 15th MEU detachment.
“We are glad to be here,” said Maj. Shawn Steranduerg, VMA-513’s MEU detachment officer in charge. “It is good for tactical aircraft to get off the ship. Since we have been here our flight hours have tripled. We are doing a real world mission here. Every one of us would stay if we had the opportunity.”
Marine Attack Squadron 513’s detachment has been with the Tomcats for the past month and is now leaving the squadron to return to the MEU.
Throughout the stay of MAG-13’s units here, Marines from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 have been here from the beginning. With every unit or detachment from MAG-13 that deploys, a small group of MALS Marines deploys to support the units wherever they go.
With different detachments coming and going for a bulk of their deployment, the Tomcats mechanics were constantly adjusting to different maintenance procedures from their fellow MAG-13 Harrier mechanics.
“We were able to learn a lot from our sister squadrons,” said Lance Cpl. Sean Skinner, harrier mechanic, VMA-311 and Santa Rosa, Calif., native. “When we work with Marines who do things a little different than us we have to give and take until we identify what works for both of us.”
Up to this point VMA-214, ’211, ‘311 and ‘513 from MAG-13 have supported combat operations in Iraq.
“It has been rewarding to work with every unit from MAG-13,” said Maj. Pat Schroder, operations officer, VMA-311. “It is an honor to be the ‘parent’ unit for all of the MAG-13 detachments that have been through here.”
In the past year MAG-13 has been flexible with their organizational structure allowing detachments to come and go multiple times never letting the mission suffer and keep the heat on insurgent activities in the Al Anbar province. This trait of adaptability is the essence of what the Marine Corps is about, accomplishing the mission no matter what hand you are dealt.