IWAKUNI, Japan – Marine Aircraft Group 12 welcomed Marine-Attack Squadron 211 into its hangars here April 6 as the squadron nears the end of its Western Pacific deployment.
The squadron arrived here as part of the Unit Deployment Program, a program implemented to allow the mobilization of units and squadrons to various countries throughout the Western Pacific for approximately six months.
VMA-211, also known as the Wake Island Avengers, arrived with eight AV-8B Harrier jets to carry out its mission to provide close-air support, armed reconnaissance and air-defense to support III Marine Expeditionary Forces as a forward deployed force in readiness.
VMA-211 is normally based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., where it falls under the command of MAG-13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
The Avengers have been deployed since Jan 3. with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Essex, from which the squadron performed various international, joint-service exercises in unfamiliar amphibious and land environments.
“Operation Cobra Gold was definitely a challenge operating from ship and shore, but it was definitely a good experience,” said Capt. Adam Faul, AV- 8B Harrier pilot with VMA-211. “We operated right off of the ship, which was definitely a good experience for both Marines on the ground and our pilots.”
Prior to VMA-211’s arrival here, the squadron also operated out of Kadena Air Base Okinawa, Japan, where the squadron took advantage of the opportunity to gain vital offensive air support training.
“Kadena was a great place to train because we got to drop a lot of live ordnance,” said Lt. Col. Bret Ritterby, VMA-211 commanding officer. “We got a lot of good training out of it.”
During the next evolution of VMA- 211’s Western Pacific deployment, the squadron will fall under the command of MAG-12 and is to receive an ample amount of assistance from support elements such as Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 while in Iwakuni.
During deployment, squadron maintenance Marines have enjoyed Western Pacific tropical climates as opposed to the hot desert environment they are used to at home, said Cpl. Justin Reyes, VMA-211 fixed-wing aircraft airframes mechanic. “It is definitely not as hot out here as it is in Yuma.”
Maintenance Marines have also met every task expeditiously and efficiently to ensure peak level aircraft performance.
“We have got a lot of hard-working Marines,” Faul said. “Our Marines are doing awesome. Since we have been doing split operations, our aircraft have not all been in the same place, but our Marines have been sustaining the schedule as if they were. It is pretty impressive.”
While in Iwakuni, VMA-211 is slated to conduct air-to-air training as the Avengers gear up for their final UDP mission.
“We are also working on training an air combat tactics instructor,” Ritterby said. “That’s going to culminate when we go off to Lava Viper. We are going to do a live missile shoot out there.”
The Wake Island Avengers are slated to participate in Lava Viper 2011 in support of MAG-24, 1st MAW, at Marine Corps Air Facility Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
“I wanted to come back from deployment better trained and more capable than when we got here,” Ritterby said. “That’s our overall goal. For 65 percent of our Marines, this is their first deployment. I wanted to get Marines out to see as much of this part of the world as they can.”
VMA-211 is slated to wrap up its UDP deployment and return to Yuma, Ariz., at the end of June.