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VMA-542, VMA-214 bring Marine attack jets to Iraq

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/22/2004

Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

AL ASAD, Iraq (May 22, 2004) -- Marine Attack Squadrons 542 and 214, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, arrived here in the mid-afternoon hours and throughout the night of May 18, to augment the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force missions throughout Western Iraq.

VMA-542, nicknamed the "Tigers," departed Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., about a week before arriving in Iraq. As the "Tigers" lifted off for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marines of VMA-214, nicknamed the "Black Sheep," were leaving Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to do the same.

The attack squadrons will assist Marine light attack helicopter squadrons already in theater with close air support for ground troops who need the aerial firepower that these planes can provide. This support for the troops is the number one mission of the AV-8B Harrier II and is the first priority to the squadrons, claimed Capt. Phil B. Kendro, Harrier pilot and adjutant, VMA-214.

"We want to help out," Kendro said. "It is our duty to help our fellow Marines out here."

One of Kendro's counterparts from the "Tigers" agreed wholeheartedly with his assessment of the Harriers purpose in Iraq.

"In the Marine air community, we focus on being 'air to mud' warriors by supporting the troops on the ground," said Capt. Christian D. Rizzo, Harrier pilot, VMA-542. "It all revolves around support of the Marines on the ground."

Both squadrons deployed to Iraq last year, and after a short rest period, came back for another round. The families weren't happy, but were understanding of this deployment, Kendro said.

"I don't think the families were excited, but they know that this is what we signed up for and what our job is," he said. "They understand that our fellow Marines are over here and that we needed to come help them and bring everyone home."

Rizzo noted that time for preparation was short for the squadron this time, but past experience has helped immeasurably.

"It was a fast deployment and everything happened very quickly," he explained. "We were very prepared for this; we worked hard before we came here. Everyone did a good job getting themselves and the squadron ready to go."

The attack squadrons have a difficult mission ahead of them, so safety is paramount for the Marines when performing their mission, remarked Rizzo.

"It's a very enthusiastic crowd," he said. "We're excited to be able to work and do our jobs. However, we'll have to be very careful when employing our weapons.

"If in an effort to protect our troops you have to endanger them, you're not doing your job," he added. "We protect troops and protect life. We'll have to be surgical and it will be challenging."

As challenging as the future may look for the squadrons that are joining the fight to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the Harriers' part of the mission is to bring the fight to the enemy, Rizzo said. There is no better way to do this than to add the Harrier squadrons into the mix of Marines already here, he added.

"When you get the Marine on the ground and the Marine in the air working together, it is absolutely devastating to the enemy," he concluded. "This is a war and it will be challenging, but we will accomplish the mission."

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