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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Wings of Freedom: 3rd MAW aircraft support Operation Iraqi Freedom


Story Identification Number: 20033253240
Story by Staff Sgt. John C. DiDomenico

KUWAIT(March 20, 2003) -- The air is filled with mixed senses of urgency, power, awe, fear and determination. Ordnance personnel load various bombs and missiles on the aircraft. Plane captains signal their pilots to start engines and complete pre-flight checks. With a final signal to taxi, they render crisp salutes to wish the pilot success on their mission and safe return.

Marine F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, roared into the night sky in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fixed wing squadrons included Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, VMFA (AW)-225, VMFA-232, VMFA-251, VMFA (AW) -533, Marine Attack Squadron 542 and VMA-214.

As the aircraft provide air support, coalition ground forces consisting of the 1st Marine Division began their assault, achieving the capture of the port city of Umm Quasr before making their way to Baghdad.

According to Capt. Jaden J. Kim, weapons systems officer, VMFA (AW)-121, from Illinois, and Capt. Mike Deddens, Harrier pilot, VMA-214 from Texas, their missions included providing forward air control missions, close air support and strike missions on the Marine Expeditionary Force objective area to support the Marines on the ground.

"Our missions were to engage the direct threats such as artillery, tanks and armored personnel carriers," Deddens said. "Everything worked as advertised from targeting coordination and target area tactics."

Both pilots agreed they benefited from prior training flights and experience.

"Our squadron recently returned from Afghanistan and flew Operation Southern Watch missions," Kim stated. "We have experienced aircrews and our personnel knew the operational tempo would be high."

According to Deddens, they also knew the importance and urgency of their missions.

"We knew in the back of our minds the real importance of the missions," he said. "We were busy as we methodically and professionally did everything as we were trained to do, however, realized there was an added sense of urgency because we knew the Marines on the ground were depending on us."

For Deddens, this was his first time flying in a combat environment.

"It was phenomenal but strange to put bombs down range," he added. "It wasn't until after our return that it finally struck home that the 'game was on,' and that was kind of shocking"

American forces in the area and Americans back home watched as despite intense Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, the Marine aircraft joined Air Force A-10 Warthogs, F-16 Strike Eagles, F-117 Stealth Fighters, B-52 bombers and other coalition aircraft and Naval forces to drop thousands of bombs and cruise missiles on selected government and military targets in Baghdad, Basra and other cities to topple Saddam Hussein's regime.

After the first night of bombing, all coalition aircraft returned safely to their bases and prepared for their next missions.

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