The last group of a Yuma-based AV-8B Harrier squadron left for their final deployment, Dec. 5.
Approximately 100 Marines and sailors with Marine Attack Squadron 513, along with a detachment from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, headed to Japan to attach with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
This deployment, which will see the Marines operating in Japan and aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in the North Pacific Ocean, marks the final adventure of the VMA-513 Flying Nightmares.
After decades of serving their country in the skies, the squadron is slated for decommission in 2013.
“It’s sad, especially when the jets departed,” said Sgt. Maj. Raquel Painter, the VMA-513 sergeant major and a native of Sioux City, Iowa. “This is, no kidding, the last time the Nightmares will be here in Yuma. When we get back we’ll be decommissioned.”
VMA-513 is Yuma’s oldest Harrier squadron, having participated in major conflicts such as World War II and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The squadron also holds a record of aviation milestones, including the first kill of a supersonic drone with a sidewinder missile in 1964, the first Corps squadron to transition to the Harrier in 1970, the only squadron in the world to simultaneously employ all three variants of the AV-8B in 2001, and the first squadron to employ the LIGHTENING II targeting pod in combat.
The Marines are aware of the legacy they carry on and will leave behind.
“They’re proud to go on this deployment,” said Betty Pancake, The VMA-513 family readiness officer. “They know it’s the last one and they want to prove that they are the best.”
VMA-513 was one of the first squadrons to see action in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, spending nearly a year on deployment from October 2002 through the autumn of 2003. The squadron’s penultimate deployment also saw them in Afghanistan in 2011, where they supported 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
Only a handful of combat veterans from that deployment are on this one, but for Marines who are deploying for the first time, they are eager to prove their mettle.
“I’m excited, I get to use the skills I’ve been honing here in an expeditionary environment,” said Lance Cpl. Brooke Saucier, a VMA-513 ordnance technician and a native of West Palm Beach, Fla. “We want to leave our mark. This is the last time our squadron will do anything within the Corps.”
For more seasoned Marines such as Master Sgt. Michael Cianci, VMA-513 avionics chief, “I thought my last deployment would be my last,” and Cpl. Kevin Eisenman, a MALS-13 aviation logistics information management systems specialist, this MEU is another notch on the belt.
To be sure though, boat life is very different from most deployments.
The hours are long, the quarters small and there are some periods where one doesn’t see sunlight for days, explained Eisenman.
Meanwhile, back in garrison, the Marines who are not deploying will be relocated to the different squadrons on base.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Pancake . “When they come back, their brothers and sisters are going to be in different places. It’s going to be hard.”
Lance Cpl. Danielle Garrison, a VMA-513 airframes mechanic and among those who will be fighting under a different banner while her brethren are deployed, is also among the spouses who must temporarily let go of their loved ones.
“It’s one of those things where I wish I could go with him,” said the Belton, Mo., of her husband Grant, a VMA-513 airframes mechanic. “He’s going to be leaving his mark on a lot of people.”
VMA-513 has opened many chapters of Corps aviation history. Even as they write their conclusion, their history is reflected in each of its members, past and present.
“I’m honored and I feel very privileged to participate with the Marines in this historic event,” said Painter. “Not too many get to experience this.”
The Harriers took off Dec. 3, with Lt. Col. Samuel Smith, the squadron’s commanding officer, heading the pack. He pithily summarized his feelings on leading the Nightmares overseas one last time:
“I’m proud of this unit,” he said. “I’m proud of the Nightmares.”
After that he boarded his jet and was off; Marines aren’t known for drawn-out goodbyes.