Marine Attack Squadron-223 [VMA-223]
Marine Attack Squadron 223 (VMA-223), nicknamed the "Bulldogs", was first commissioned as Marine Fighter Squadron 223 on 1 May 1942 at Ewa, Oahu, Hawaii. The "Bulldogs" first operational aircraft was the Brewster F2A Buffalo. Leaving Hawaii for combat during World War II and equipped with the Grumman F4F Wildcat, VMA-223 became the first fighter squadron committed to combat in the skies over Guadalcanal. Throughout the war the squadron participated in numerous major campaigns in the South Pacific Theater.
After being equipped with the new Chance-Vought F4U Corsair, the "Bulldogs" continued to fight in such places as the Philippines and Okinawa. These numerous operations are repeatedly cited in the squadron's World War II war diaries. During the battle for Guadalcanal, Major John L. Smith, while serving as Commanding Officer of the squadron, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism. His Maintenance Officer, Captain Marion Carl, would win the first of his two Navy Crosses in the skies over Guadalcanal. Two Presidential Unit Citations were also awarded and affixed to the squadron's battle colors. During the postwar years, the squadron continued to train for the fighter mission in addition to being responsible for training transport and bomber pilots. Following transfer from MCAS El Toro to MCAS Cherry Point in 1948, VMA-223 became a carrier squadron. The squadron deployed to the Mediterranean in 1949 aboard the USS LEYTE (CV-32).
The "Bulldogs" entered the Jet Age in July 1950, receiving their first jet aircraft, the F9F Panther. In August 1953, the squadron again deployed overseas to Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan. The squadron operated in Japan, Korea, and Okinawa, returning to El Toro in October 1954. Shortly thereafter, the squadron was redesignated as Marine Attack Squadron 223, emphasizing its role in attack aviation. The squadron once again went to sea from April through October 1956, this time aboard the USS WASP (CV-18) for operations in the Western Pacific (WestPac). For the next three years, the squadron operated both overseas and at El Toro. In August 1957, the squadron was equipped with the North American F4B Fury. A relatively short time later in January 1961, the Fury was replaced by the Douglas A4B Skyhawk.
In December 1965, the "Bulldogs" once again were called upon for combat duty in the Far East, this time at Chu Lai, South Vietnam. In supporting allied ground forces in theater, the Enclosure squadron flew more than 32,000 flight hours, including 13,441 mishap free hours. In May 1967, the squadron flew a record 1,234 combat sorties, by far the greatest monthly total for any attack squadron operating in Vietnam. In February 1970, after nearly 5 1/2 years in the Far East, the "Bulldogs" were reassigned to the Third Marine Aircraft Wing and returned to El Toro.
In May 1975, the squadron received the new A-4M Skyhawk aircraft. During July 1976, VMA-223 transferred from MCAS Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan and once again became a part of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. In the year that followed, the "Bulldogs" became experts at performing the attack mission, participating in fourteen major exercises and deployments. Included were combined exercises with Australian, New Zealand, and South Korean armed forces. The "Bulldogs" amassed over 31,200 mishap free flight hours. During August 1977, VMA-223 returned from Japan and joined the Second Marine Aircraft Wing, stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina. The "Bulldogs" deployed to Iwakuni, Japan for two six-month tours in May 1981 and in January 1983. Deployments to Okinawa, Korea and the Philippine Islands highlighted the WestPac excursions. The "Bulldogs" returned to Cherry Point and resumed operations in June 1983. From then until September of 1987, the squadron deployed numerous times and participated in exercises throughout CONUS, Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay. At this time, the "Bulldogs" had the distinction of being the last operational A-4M Squadron on the East Coast. In October 1987, VMA-223 transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II.
May of 1989 marked the return of the "Bulldogs" to the Sixth Fleet. This time aboard the USS NASSAU (LHA-4) in support of the 26 MEU. During September of 1989, the squadron deployed to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Canada for training with Canadian Forces. March of 1990 marked the second Sixth Fleet Deployment for the "Bulldogs" aboard the USS SAIPAN (LHA-2) in support of the 22 MEU. This detachment participated in Operation SHARP EDGE, flying armed combat air patrol missions in support of the non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO) over Liberia. In January of 1991, the "Bulldogs" deployed a six-plane detachment to NAS Rota, Spain for operations in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM. The detachment remained at Rota through February, training with Spanish Forces.
June 1991 marked yet another Sixth Fleet deployment for VMA-223. This time aboard the USS WASP (LHD-1) with ten aircraft in support of the 26 MEU. This deployment was highlighted by mutual training conducted with Israeli, Moroccan, French and Spanish Forces as well as participation in EXERCISE DISPLAY DETERMINATION 91. May 1992 saw the squadron, once again, return to WestPac with the Unit Deployment Program to MCAS Iwakuni to join the First Marine Aircraft Wing. This WestPac deployment placed a heavy emphasis on air-ground training operations with numerous bombing sorties flown on the Korean Peninsula and on Okinawan ranges. A four-plane detachment was deployed to Australia as part of a larger MAG-12 deployment. Introduction of the new AV-8B Harrier II Plus in 1994 did not slow the pace for the "Bulldogs". A six-plane detachment of AV-8Bs deployed to the Mediterranean in October 1994 aboard the USS NASSAU (LHA-4) in support of the 22 MEU. Meanwhile, the squadron conducted deployments to Hill AFB, UT, Combined Arms Exercise (CAX) 10-94 at MCAGCC Twenty-nine Palms, CA, and Indian Springs, NV to develop and refine expertise in the use of the APG-65 radar and Night Systems tactics.
January 1996 again witnessed the "Bulldogs" on the move with simultaneous deployments to MCAGCC Twenty Nine Palms, California and NAF El Centro, California. During CAX's 3 and 4-96, the "Bulldogs" supported the MAGTF by flying more than 400 sorties. Concurrently, the rest of the "Bulldogs" were in El Centro completing Harrier II Plus transition training and Night Systems Qualifications for five more experienced pilots. The CAX and El Centro deployments brought the "Bulldogs" to an unprecedented 50% Night Systems Qualified - among the highest NSQ percentages in the Harrier fleet. In May 1996, the squadron manned a CONUS standby detachment of 6 aircraft in support of the 22 MEU embarked aboard the USS GUAM (LPH-3). In June 1996, a detachment deployed to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina to participate in EXERCISE BLADE RUNNER in support of MAG-31/VMFA-115 for air combat training. Simultaneously, the squadron deployed to NAS Brunswick, Maine for EXERCISE MARCOT 96, a large, annual, Canadian-sponsored, multinational maritime NATO exercise. In August 1996, a detachment deployed to Twentynine Palms, California in support of CAX 9-96. In October 1996, MAG-14 redistributed its aircraft assets and VMA-223 reverted back to an all day attack Harrier squadron. At that time, many of the squadron's experienced Night Systems pilots and Harrier II Plus experienced maintenance personnel were also transferred to other units.
In March 1997, the "Bulldogs" deployed to NAF El Centro, California for Low Altitude Tactics (LAT) and heavy weapons employment training. At the same time, the squadron again manned a CONUS standby detachment in support of the 24 MEU. In June the squadron deployed to Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, Nova Scotia, Canada for EXERCISE MARCOT 97. Arriving back to Cherry Point in late June the squadron quickly prepared a six-plane detachment to deploy to CAX 9-97 in late July. CAX 9-97 was an extremely successful exercise in which the detachment dropped over 179,000 pounds of ordnance. In July 1997 six (6) "Day Attack" aircraft and fifty-five (55) Marines embarked aboard the USS Saipan for a six month deployment with 22 MEU(SOC). As an integral part of America's combined arms sea-based force that is the most ready when the nation is least ready, they supported operations in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Balkans by flying 681 flight hours and 746 Sorties. In November 1997 VMA-223 deployed to NAS El Centro, CA. The squadron conducted Low Altitude Tactics, Air Combat Maneuvering and live ordnance training. During this three week period the squadron flew 417.1 flight hours and 351 sorties while dropping more than 80,000 pounds of live ordnance.
In March of 1998, the squadron sent one pilot and twelve enlisted Marines to the Weapons Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 2-98 at MCAS Yuma, AZ. During this course one VMA-223 Naval Aviator was designated as a Weapons and Tactics Instructor. In April of 1998, the squadron flew CAS and Strike missions in support of the Urban Warrior Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) and missions in support of MAG-31's "Hornet's Nest." In May, the squadron deployed to MCALF Bogue Field, NC to hone our V/STOL skills and ensure that the squadron was ready to support the MAGTF from a primitive, expeditionary environment. The entire squadron once again proved beyond a doubt that they were at ready to fight our nation's battles -- in any clime and place -- from any type of expeditionary facility. This was accomplished while accumulating another 118 flight hours and 119 sorties. In June of 1998, the squadron flew missions in support of exercise "Cooperative Osprey."
In July of 1998, the squadron received its first remanufactured AV-8B II Plus aircraft and began the re-transition to the radar program. Over the course of the next 7 months the squadron would accept a total of 12 radar aircraft, while transferring 15 day attack aircraft to VMAT-203 and the remanufacture program. In August 1998 VMA-223 deployed to NAS Fallon, NV for the biennial Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation System (MCCRES) exercise. The high tempo operations during this exercise were met with headstrong determination from the maintenance Marines. During this period the squadron flew 369.1 flight hours, completed 327 sorties, and dropped more than 181,000 pounds of live ordnance. VMA-223 also successfully completed its combat readiness evaluation by successfully executing all missions that would be required in combat.
In December 1998 the squadron's shipboard detachment of 6 aircraft and 55 Marines returned from 22nd MEU(SOC). This was the last Day Attack equipped detachment to sail from the east coast. From this point on, the only Harriers that will sail with the MEUs will be Harrier II Plus aircraft. From January to February 1999 the squadron deployed to Twentynine Palms, CA in support of CAX 3 and CAX 4. During the course of the deployment, the squadron completed 102% of fragged events, flying 529 sorties in 612.5 hours. Additionally, the squadron set a new benchmark for the number of Night Systems (NVG) sorties flown by a Harrier unit at CAX (164 sorties and 190.7 hours). As a result 13 pilots were Night Systems Qualified (9 of whom would chop to the 22nd MEU(SOC) in March).
In March 1999, the squadron sent one pilot, 2 radar aircraft and 15 maintenance Marines to the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 2-99 at MAWTS-1 in Yuma, AZ. In March, the squadron detached a six plane (radar) shipboard detachment in support of the 22 MEU(SOC) aboard the USS BATAAN. This was the maiden voyage of the BATAAN and VMA-223 was the first deployed squadron to operate from her flight deck. In March of 1999 the squadron developed a proposal to convert Day Attack AV-8Bs into Night Attack Capable AV-8Bs for under $1,000 per aircraft. The RAMEC submitted by the squadron was approved by COMNAVAIRLANT and the aircraft was subsequently modified. The aircraft started flying successful NVG operations on the 7th of April. In April of 1999 the squadron's shipboard detachment aboard the USS BATAAN successfully completed Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Training (PMINT), day carrier qualifying 11 pilots and night carrier qualifying 3 pilots. In April 1999 the squadron surpassed 38,000 hours accident free. In April 1999 the Bulldogs were the recipients of the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award for 1998. In September 1999, the Bulldogs were presented with the MCAA's Sanderson Trophy as the best attack squadron in the Marine Corps.
In late 2000, VMA-223, while detached in support of 22 MEU(SOC) aboard the USS Bataan, took part in Exercise Bright Star 2000 held in Egypt, providing four AV-8B Harriers as well as their support personnel.
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