USS ESSEX AT SEA --
More than 140 Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 214 joined the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Air Combat Element June 25, and are slated to provide fixed wing support with their AV-8B Harrier jets during the MEU’s current deployment.
“We are the Air Combat Element’s fixed wing assets,” said Maj. Toby Moore, the executive officer for VMA 214, 31st MEU. “Our mission will be to provide support to Marines on the ground and the Amphibious Ready Group in both offensive and defensive missions during Talisman Sabre as well as any contingency missions that may arise.”
For many of the Marines with VMA 214, this deployment is their first with the 31st MEU, and their first to experience amphibious operations.
“It is going to be a great way for them to gain experience,” said Moore. “We train a lot, but in most cases we train alone. With the MEU, the Marines get to see the full Marine Air Ground Task Force work together. They don’t often see the full fighting force as a whole.”
VMA 214 attaching to the 31st MEU not only provides VMA’s Marines with valuable experience, it also provides many other Marines of the 31st MEU with experience they otherwise wouldn’t get.
“The VMA brings a great capability to the MEU,” said Lt. Col. Gary T. Roesti, the executive officer of the 31st MEU. “The AV-8B Harriers perform exceptionally well as a close air support platform and from my perspective they are the premier fixed-wing close air platform in the world. I think it is a great opportunity any time that the 31st MEU can go out with VMA support.”
Roesti said that the Harriers provide excellent aerial reconnaissance with an attached video pod that can send real time imagery back for dissemination to help with planning for future operations. The jets can also provide extended protection to the amphibious squadron, as they can investigate, inspect or interdict anything on or beyond the horizon at sea, well beyond the range of the MEU’s helicopters.
Stationed out of Yuma, Arizona, VMA 214 had to fly across the Pacific Ocean just to get to the 31st MEU.
“For six out of ten of the pilots that flew here, it was the first time they were flying and could look down and see just blue,” said Moore. “It took more than 17 hours of flying to get here. During that time, we refueled in mid-flight 23 times, and had to stop in Hawaii and Wake Island before we finally made it to Iwakuni.”
Moore said the Marines of VMA 214 are motivated and look forward to participating in exercise Talisman Sabre 2011.
TS11 demonstrates the United States and Australian commitment to their military alliance, and enhances stability and security throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.