MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The Marine Corps' premier attack aircraft is back in action supporting Marines on the ground. AV-8B Harrier jets with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are supporting Expeditionary Strike Group-8's Interoperability exercise as they prepare to deploy later this year.
Pilots and maintenance crews, from Marine Attack Squadron 223, are now working for the MEU's Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced). Several of the Marines were deployed with the 22nd MEU last year in Afghanistan when they operated more than 500 miles from amphibious ships to participate in combat during Operation Mountain Storm.
One of the returning pilots, Capt. Travis Wells, is looking forward to the deployment, his third in as many years. "It's always exciting and rewarding to engage in real-world, real-time application of the training objectives we preach," said Wells. "Successful (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) operations, most notably those which are of decisive benefit to our Marines on the ground, are the ultimate highlight of any attack pilot's flying career."
Harriers were instrumental in the 22nd MEU's success last year as they fought Taliban and anti-coalition militia in central Afghanistan. Aircrew amassed more than 1,000 combat hours supporting the Marines and soldiers on the ground. Those hours were directly attributed to the Marines who maintain the aircraft each day, according to the squadron leadership.
After a recent incident in Yuma involving the same type of aircraft, VMA-223 took a couple of days last week to thoroughly check their aircraft to ensure future safe flights.
"The couple of non-flying days during our operational pause (last week) gave our maintainers the chance to go over our aircraft again to make sure we are doing everything correctly," said Maj. T.J. Dunne, a Harrier pilot, who will also serve as HMM-261 (Rein)'s executive officer for the deployment.
Sgt Patrick Snow, of Havelock, N.C., is an avionics supervisor who keeps the aircraft ready to fly. Snow stressed that the main thing that ESGINT offers the Harrier detachment is the chance for pilots to practice taking off and landing on ship. Snow said that his job does not change whether on ship or land; he's charged with fixing the aircraft if it breaks. It's a job he and the other maintainers take seriously.
In addition to HMM-261 (Rein.), the 22nd MEU consists of its command element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines (BLT 1/2), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU will deploy later this year aboard ships from the NASSAU Strike Group under the collective title, ESG-8.
For more information, visit the MEU's website: http://www.22meu.usmc.mil