Marine Corps

September 6, 2012

A Pithy History of Yuma’s Attack Squadrons

Special by the Desert Warrior Staff
Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Diamant
Maj. Steven Schreiber, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 instructor, pilots an AV-8B Harrier near the Salton Sea in California prior to topping of his tanks, while in flight, with fuel transported by a KC-130 Hercules, April 4. The aerial refueling provided by the Hercules allows pilots to remain in the air longer in combat, and in this case, during an exercise as part of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.

Four AV-8B Harrier jets with Yuma’s Marine Attack Squadron 211 fly in formation over Wake Island, Jan. 5, on their way to Okinawa, Japan. The squadron earned the nickname of Wake Island Avengers due to its heroic defense of the island in December 1941. VMA-211 joined the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which was involved in multiple multinational joint-service exercises.

Marine Attack Squadron 211
Marine Attack Squadron 211 began its illustrious history as VF Squadron 4M on January 1, 1937. The Squadron adopted the plunging lion as its insignia a few months later, “because the swift and destructive rush of the King of east well represents the attack of a Fighting Squadron”. The Wake Island Avengers of Marine Attack Squadron 211 also fought valiantly during World War II with only five aircraft available to fight off numerous Japanese air and sea assaults. With the attacks on the U.S. in September 2001, the Avengers immediately deployed a six plane detachment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. One month later, VMA-211 Squadron found itself deployed to WestPac in support of the 31st MEU. In June 2002, both Det A and the Squadron returned to Yuma and immediately began preparations for supporting 31st MEU in January 2003. The Avengers are slated to return from a six-month tour in Afghanistan later this month. While overseas, they supported aviation operations with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) and made a music video showing the Marines dancing to Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe.”


Jim Hill, left, Ed Harper and Harry Johnson, all original Marine Attack Squadron 214 pilots and three of the only five still remaining, catch up with each other before speaking with media in the squadron’s ready room, April 14. All served under Medal of Honor receipient and first Black Sheep commanding officer Gregory “Pappy” Boyington during the squadron’s first combat deployment in the Pacific in 1943.

Marine Attack Squadron 214
Many of you may have heard of Marine Attack Squadron 214, known as the “Black Sheep” Squadron.  The squadron’s famous commander during World War II was none other than “Pappy” Boyington, who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during that war.  The Black Sheep even had a television show written about them – “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.  he call sign “Black Sheep” was chosen by the squadron to commemorate the unusual way in which the Squadron had been formed. The pilots ranged from experienced combat veterans, with several air-to-air victories to their credit, to new replacement pilots from the United States. Major Boyington and Major Stan Bailey were given permission to form these unassigned pilots into a squadron, with the understanding that they would have less than four weeks to have them fully trained and ready for combat. They were very successful and Major Boyington was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts.


Sgt. Michael Pruitt, aviation ordnance technician, gets ready for his fourth deployment as he kisses his wife before Marine Attack Squadron 311 deploys with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. VMA-311 provided aviation capabilities throughout their time at sea.

Marine Attack Squadron 311
Marine Attack Squadron 311 was initially commissioned a fighter squadron on Dec. 1, 1942, at Cherry Point, N.C., flying the SNJ Texan trainers. In April 1943, they received the new Vought F4U-1 Corsair and entered the Pacific Theater where they served with distinction until the end of World War II. Marine Attack Squadron 311’s Tomcats are veterans of World War II and every conflict since.  They were the first U.S. unit to use the Harrier in combat during the first Gulf War. Continuing the Tomcat’s tradition of firsts, on 3 November 2001, VMA-311 Harriers attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard the USS Peleliu became the first Harriers to fly combat missions in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. In true Tomcat fashion the Marines of VMA-311 again answered the their nation’s call as they deployed to the Northern Arabian Gulf in January 2003. Almost 59 years to the day after VMF-311’s first combat sortie in World War II, the Tomcats flew their first combat sortie of Operation Iraqi Freedom on 21 March 2003. During the war they dropped 77 tons of precision ordnance destroying or neutralizing 132 Iraqi targets. The Tomcats are currently gearing up for another deployment next year. Word is their insignia is not all it appears to be. . .


Capt. Aaron Frey, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 pilot and Evergreen, Colo., native, prepares to launch his AV-8B Harrier at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The oxygen apparatus he is wearing is courtesy of VMA-513’s aviation life support systems, which provides the pilots with the gear and equipment necessary for survival in flight.

Marine Attack Squadron 513


The last Harrier squadron, Marine Attack Squadron 513, is also Yuma’s oldest Harrier squadron. Marine Attack Squadron 513 was first commissioned as VMF-513 on 15 February 1944 at Marine Corps Auxiliary Field Oak Grove, North Carolina, flying the Grumman F6F “Hellcat.” On 15 June 1945, VMF(CVS)-513 departed San Diego, California, aboard the USS VELLA GULF and participated in carrier operations in the Pacific, making stops in Ewa, Enewetak, Saipan, and Guam. In addition, they provided close air support for the 3d Marine Division during the battle for Okinawa, Japan. The Flying Nightmares or VMA-513 began flying the first version of the Harrier (AV-8A) in 1971. They moved to Yuma in 1976, while the other three squadrons moved here in the late 1980s. VMA-513 has long been known for its aviation firsts, including the first kill of a supersonic drone with a sidewinder missile in 1964, the first USMC squadron to transition to the AV-8A “Harrier” in 1970, the only squadron in the world to simultaneously employ all three variants of the AV-8B in 2001, the first AV-8B squadron to perform land based expeditionary infrared lighting blackout flight operations in Afghanistan, the first squadron to employ the LITENING II targeting pod in combat, and the first squadron to fly missions as part of a MAG operating from a foreign warship, the HMS Illustrious in 2007. In October 2008, conducted exercise Cactus Needle at Creech AFB, Nevada. The exercise focused on integrating Harriers and the MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) of the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron. The squadron’s most recent exploits include returning from a six-month tour in Afghanistan in November, 2011. They are slated to deploy with one of the Marine Expeditionary Units in 2013.

For additional photos view the PDF online in our Archive.

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