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AL ASAD, Iraq ? An AV-8B Harrier of Marine Attack Squadron 223 lands aboard Al Asad air base Aug. 26. The Bulldog?s maintenance crew began preparing the aircraft for the next day when they began flying combat missions.

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Bulldogs hit the deck: VMA-223 ready to roll in Al Asad

26 Aug 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

More than 150 Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 223 arrived here Aug. 26. As the aircraft landed plane captains directed the Harrier jet aircraft near the hangar where they were prepped for combat. The pilots were scheduled to begin flying combat missions the following day. The Bulldogs of VMA-223 are replacing the Flying Gators of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 142 as one of the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s jet aircraft squadrons. Harriers haven’t flown in Iraq for more than two months, when VMA-311 departed in June.“Our main job is to support the Marines on the ground in any way we can,” said Lt. Col. David Lancaster, the Bulldog’s executive officer and Houston native. “Being one of the air wings reconnaissance assets comes with a great challenge that we are ready to take on. May it be providing surveillance support or just showing our presence; we are a valuable asset to the ground Marines and deterrent to insurgent activity.”This isn’t the first time the Bulldogs have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2003, they flew combat missions from the amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan.“We have a lot of Marines who served with us in 2003 during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Lancaster said. “We also have a lot of new faces, but we are all focused and ready for our mission.”With an abundance of new Marines and augments from other units, training exercises such as Desert Talon in Yuma, Ariz., and Joint Red Flag in Nellis, Nev., become increasingly important. Not only do they prepare a unit for the operational tempo of a combat environment, they also serve as a way for the squadron to start working as a team.Teamwork has been a necessity since their arrival from Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., to the Al Anbar province of Iraq. A handful of Marines arrived earlier in the month to prepare hangars and work spaces. Before the squadron could begin conducting operations, the Marines faced a few challenges, they had not expected.Instead of moving into previously occupied spaces, the Bulldogs cleaned, renovated and prepared eight buildings to work out of. The buildings had not been used since the mid-90s, when the Iraqis abandoned the base.“We had to prepare buildings that had no electricity, air conditioning, or communications and were inhabited by animals that had made the spaces their home,” Lancaster said. “The support from Marine Wing Support Group 27 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 has been outstanding. Helping us get the basic necessities to begin working out of these buildings was a big help before our aircraft showed up.”For two weeks the jet mechanics all traded in their wrenches for hammers and nails to improve their work spaces. Building desks, countertops, walls and hanging doors to making minor repairs to support the infrastructure, the Marines all pitched in to complete the work areas.“We came in and these buildings had nothing,” said Pvt. Bradley Mcouat, a seat mechanic and Greedwood, Ind., native. “Everything in them we built. From the furniture to the floor, we had to do it all.”Whether it is building better workspaces or preparing their aircraft for the next mission the Marines will do all they can support Operation Iraqi Freedom.“We are excited about being here,” Mcouat said. “This is what we have trained for and I’m ready to put it all to use.”The Bulldogs are eager to get to work and are excited about their role here. The Harrier aircraft, with its vertical lift capability, not only can deliver ordnance when needed, it will serve battlefield commanders with valuable aerial intelligence. The Harrier is just another addition to the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s attack aircraft, and will bring the fight to the enemy as ground forces close in on the insurgents who seek to undermine freedom in Iraq. Together with Marines and coalition forces on the ground, the Bulldogs will aid the Iraqi people secure a brighter future.*For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at herronca@acemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil*