AL ASAD, Iraq -- Operation Spear, an offensive in the western part of the Al Anbar province, came to a conclusion last week. Over the course of the operation Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, flying the F/A-18 Hornet, took to the skies to provide support to the troops on the ground.
The ‘Bengals’ of VMFA(AW)-224 flew 24 sorties in direct combat support as Marines and soldiers battled insurgents near the Syrian border. The ‘Bengals’ armed with laser-guided precision munitions attacked enemy positions, destroying multiple targets including enemy mortar positions and a building used to make vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices from which insurgents were operating. The majority of targets were buildings confirmed as insurgent strongholds from where ground forces were taking fire. The squadron also flew one strafing run firing 20 mm rounds from the aircraft’s guns.
Armed with a vast array of specialized equipment and visual contact, Marines on the ground were able to direct and coordinate the strikes.
“The most difficult challenge is positive hostile identification,” said Capt. John Bailey, pilot and Wake Forest, N.C., native. “Marine air officers, forward air controllers and joint tactical air controllers on the battlefield ensured that ordnance was accurately assigned to hostile targets with no collateral damage to nearby structures. Their presence in the city was indispensable to meeting rules of engagement criteria required to engage targets with air power.”
Operation Spear began June 17 in an effort to root out insurgents and foreign fighters and disrupt insurgent support systems in the western region of Iraq. The operation lasted four days and each time a pilot prepared for a mission close coordination between the pilots and the air controllers with ground forces was paramount.
“We spent much of our airborne time overhead Karabilah scanning portions of the battlefield our ground counterparts cannot see,” said Bailey.
Strong winds and recent sandstorms posed some challenges for the pilots. Their employment on the battlefield was never degraded, but landing the aircraft was difficult. Aircrew would sometimes get a visual of the runway 30 seconds before landing. However, the aircraft performed flawlessly, which is a testament to the true professionalism of the maintenance Marines.
“Marines are working 24 hours a day; each Marine working a minimum of 12 hours a day,” said Capt. Ken Miller, pilot, from Lancaster, Pa. “The maintenance department has been working at nearly 100 percent up and ready status, which is almost unheard of. When we return [from a mission], maintenance will turn the jet around, refuel it and rearm it, and have [the Hornet] ready to fly again.”
“The squadron maintenance department did a Herculean job of ensuring the [Bengals] were always prepared to launch when called upon to support Operation Spear,” said Bailey. “They maintained sortie flow required to complete operational requirements through the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces battle space.”
This fighter squadron is part of the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing that has been providing direct combat air power in Iraq since March. From the weapons and sensors officers and pilots who fly the aircraft to the Marines who turn the wrenches and load the weapons each successful operation is a team effort. Those who benefit from the success are the coalition forces on the ground battling an insurgency up close.