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'Tomcats' finish deployment, return home to Yuma

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005516987
Story by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

AL ASAD, Iraq (May, 16, 2005) -- Two hundred Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 311 are returning to their home base, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., May 17 after completing a six-month tour.

The ‘Tomcats’ were on the prowl within eight hours after their AV-8B Harriers touched down here, Nov. 13.

As they return home VMA-311 now boasts a record for flying the most combat flight hours by any Harrier squadron having flown more than 6,200 hours during their 3,400 sorties throughout Iraq.

“We have flown three times our normal amount since arriving here,” said Maj. Rob Schroder the operations officer for VMA-311. “We have shown the Harrier community that given proper maintenance and supplies our aircraft can perform extremely well.”

The ‘Tomcats’ have been working at a high tempo since their arrival and proved that when a mission needs to be accomplished, Marines will get it done no matter what the conditions.

“We have worked 12-hour days since we started here,” said Lt. Col. Robert Kuckuk, commanding officer of VMA-311. “We are proof that working in an austere environment with no breaks, through all the holidays, Marines can still keep a fast work tempo. Once we got in a grove and hit our ‘battle rhythm’ we kept operating at a high tempo for an extended period of time.”

“These guys came out here focused, charged and ready to work,” said Gunnery Sgt. Faron Valencia a quality assurance technician with the ‘Tomcats’. “Tasks that could take up to two weeks in Yuma took a couple of days out here. It was because all of our Marines worked together really well and came together to get our birds ready for their next mission.”

The biggest obstacle for the mechanics wasn’t the actual working on the aircraft, but the layout of their facilities. Instead of working in one hangar, the different shops were split between a maintenance building, a sea hut, tents and a temporary hangar on the flightline.

“The distance between shops was a hassle at times,” Valencia said. “When the different shops needed to order a part or get something from another work section they couldn’t just walk to the other side of a hangar.”

While the mechanics had to learn to deal with the inconvenience of such an enormous work area, the pilots had to become accustom to flying most of their mission under the cover of darkness. Back in Yuma, pilots spend about 10 - 20 percent of their overall flight time at night. Since being here the ‘Tomcat’ pilots have flown upwards of 70 percent of their overall flight time in times of darkness.

“Flying at night is different than flying during the day,” Kuckuk said. “I have guys that have 80 percent of their time at night. It wasn’t unusual for our pilots to go weeks without seeing the sunlight. This is a 24-hour war.”

During those long nights the Harrier pilots were able to see the progress of the Iraqi people as their deployment wore on.

“In November we hardly saw any lights on the ground, then gradually the cities began to get power and we could see the lights multiplying as we spent more time over here,” Schroder said. “It is a testament to what we are doing here. With our assistance, the troops on the ground are able to keep the cities secure so that the Iraqis could restore power to many of the cities and we could see the fruits of our labor.”

From the Battle of Fallujah to the elections the ‘Tomcats’ witnessed a lot of progress throughout Iraq. Although, according to them, the biggest difference they made was in the minds of the ground Marines they supported while in flight over Iraq.

By providing close air support to the Marines on the ground the ‘Tomcats’ saved numerous lives not only by dropping bombs, but just sheer presence. The sound of their aircraft was enough to keep the enemy at bay, and instill confidence in the Marines on the ground that they were there if needed.



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