MCAS CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
More than 130 Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 542 departed Cherry Point, today, en route to the Pacific to provide aviation support with the squadron’s AV-8B Harriers as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
An advance party of more than 30 Marines along with their Harriers left the air station, June 1, for the roughly 6-month deployment, maintaining the 31st MEU’s mission as the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Marines will make stops in Hawaii, Wake Island, Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong, averaging 12-hour-plus work days, said Gunnery Sgt. Chris L. Riley, an Efland, N.C., native, who has gone on this deployment cycle once before.
Other countries covet the opportunity to train with the Harrier because of its unique ability to provide precise, agile close-air support, explained Riley, the squadron adjutant.
“Our guys are mad when they miss by three feet, dropping a bomb from 20,000 feet,” said Riley. “They practice so much.”
The Marines’ emphasis throughout is maintaining a fluent workflow during an on-the-fly tempo, much like they’d experience during a deployment to Afghanistan, said Riley.
“They’re practicing for immediacy in an environment they’re not used to,” he said. “In a combat situation, time is of the essence.”
The Marines will also maintain readiness for the unknown. Harriers from the 26th MEU were some of the first forces called upon to defend the Libyan people from Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011.
Marines’ ability to quickly adapt paired with the Harriers’ capabilities keeps the Harrier community busy, which requires an integral commitment from the Marine family members.
“It’s challenging, no doubt,” said Casey Wallace, wife of Harrier pilot, Capt. Michael Wallace.
This is the second deployment the Wallaces, natives of La Grange, Ky., and their two daughters, 5 and 2, have experienced together. Casey said the separation creates a greater sense of appreciation for one another, which isn’t easy for two young girls to understand.