AL ASAD, Iraq -- Since Nov. 10, 1775, Marines have carved their place in the history books and the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Attack Squadron 211 recently wrote a another page of their own.
The Avengers successfully conducted the first all AV-8B Harrier strike using Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs, Nov. 9, 2006.
“It was too easy, especially coming from the older way of doing things,” said Lt. Col. Ossen “Oz” DHaiti, the VMA-211 executive officer and one of the pilots during the strike. “To have two different bombs hit two different points of impact near simultaneously and taking out a building is incredible.”
The strike, which was conducted with four Harriers employing six 1,000 pound and three 500 pound JDAMs, took down a building northeast of Ramadi, Iraq.
“It was a request from (3rd Battalion, 6th Marines) who confirmed that known anti-Iraqi forces used the building,” said Maj. Kain Anderson, the pilot training officer and Weapons and Tactics Instructor for VMA-211 and lead pilot for the strike. “The (3rd Marine Aircraft Wing) wanted the building turned to rubble.”
Usually, a squadron has 72 hours to prepare for a strike, but this time the Avengers had to perform it the next day. After receiving the request from 3rd MAW, the operations officer immediately put in the call to maintenance and ordnance.
“When we got the call from (operations), we immediately went into preparation,” said Staff Sgt. Eddie Puente, the staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of ordnance for VMA-211. “Since this was a different situation, we had to make sure that everything was perfect.”
Usually it takes an ordnance department three to four hours to completely load bombs, but because of the short timeline, the Avengers accomplished the task in an hour and 14 minutes, with a crew of 10 Marines.
“These Marines stand out above and beyond,” said Puente, a Pearsall, Texas, native, of his Marines. “It is an honor to be serving with them. When the planes came back slick, the
Marines were giving each other high fives. It was an overwhelming experience.”
In addition to the work and dedication of all the Marines in the squadron, the VMA-211 pilots believe that the strike was so easy because of the integration of the JDAM to the Harrier. Before the integration, Harrier pilots used a laser-guided bomb, which limited some of their capabilities.
“The JDAM has the capabilities to be dropped in all weather conditions,” said Anderson, a Bend, Oregon, native. “It can be dropped from above or below the clouds. You can also generate coordinates; it does not have to see the target, like the laser-guided bomb. The JDAM is more accurate and reliable. You can also program the angle of impact, which increases the accuracy of the bomb.”
The JDAM has been around since 1998 and was integrated into the Harrier in 2005, according to Anderson.
“We are using Block 4 JDAM, which is able to use relative targeting,” explained Anderson. “The plane has new software which enables relative targeting. In simple terms, this means being able to put the targeting pod cursor on the target and then the software transfers those coordinates to the JDAM.”
The Harrier is the only plane in United States Naval inventory with that capability, while the F-15E Strike Eagle is the only other plane in the Department of Defense, according to Anderson.
“It is a unique capability that just came around and the instructors at (Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1) introduced it to the pilots and are trying to advertise the relative targeting capability to the ground Forward Air Controllers,” said Anderson.
Before deploying to Iraq, the VMA-211 pilots had to familiarize themselves with the new technology.
“We had a lot of work and training before this strike,” said Anderson. “The squadron spent about half a year getting schooled on everything. Before coming out here, we dropped two JDAMs each.”
Although the JDAMs were a part of such a successful mission, the strike could not have happened without the help of the entire squadron.
“It took the entire squadron, especially in such a short timeline,” said Capt. Michael “Monkey” McKenney, the airframes division officer for VMA-211 and Washington, D.C., native. “All the crews had to prepare the Harriers. A lot of pilots had to work night crew to prepare for the flight so that we could get our required sleep. After the mission, I was excited and proud.”