ABOARD USS KEARSARGE --
The AV-8B Harrier jets of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently completed approximately 68 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Launching from the deck of the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), the Harriers from the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), flew air support missions for various Coalition ground units from Sept. 25 through Oct. 11, according to Lt. Col. John K. Adams, the officer in charge of the Harrier detachment aboard Kearsarge.
“We were tasked to provide on-call close air support, but the majority of our time was spent in gathering information and keeping an eye out for anything unusual.” said Adams. “I can tell you that the ground units we supported appreciated the fact that we were overhead providing capabilities that they might not otherwise have received if the 22nd MEU was not here.”
The AV-8B Harrier brought a broad array of assets to the Iraqi skies, said Adams. With the ability to drop variety of precision-guided ordnance and to provide lethal 25 mm cannon fire, the single engine, single-pilot jet provided the ground force commander the ability to reach out further and provided a different perspective of the battlefield, allowing for better informed decisions during potential combat operations.
During many of the missions, the ACE pilots provided an extra set of eyes for troops on the ground, reporting suspicious vehicles and activities. Equipped with a high-tech targeting system, the Harrier pilots can see and engage enemy troops without being detected, said Adams. He added that the missions couldn’t have happened without complete support and a few long days and nights by all those involved.
“While the focus was on Harrier operations and those directly involved in the mission, those sorties would not have happened if not for the efforts and professionalism of every Marine and sailor in the MEU and Kearsarge Strike Group,” said Adams, referring to the long hours aircraft maintainers and flight deck operators worked to ensure the jets were ready and able to complete their daily missions.
As the Harriers flew daily missions into Iraq, the majority of the 22nd MEU (SOC) Marines and sailors were ashore in Kuwait conducting sustainment training.
“The Harrier missions flown in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom are a testament to the flexibility of a Marine Expeditionary Unit,” said Col. Doug Stilwell, commanding officer for the 22nd MEU (SOC). “The fact that we can support forces over a broad geographic area, even while the most of the MEU is training elsewhere really highlights the MEU’s capabilities as a war fighting organization.”
The 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element.