MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Marine Attack Squadron 223 transplanted itself over the month of March, trading its home at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., for the training conditions of MCAS Miramar, Calif.
“We’re dubbing this thing ‘Exercise Fightertown Fury,’” said Lt. Col. Thomas D. Gore, commanding officer of VMA-223, alluding to the reputation Miramar has as a haven for fighter platforms, cemented by movies like “Top Gun.”
Unlike fighter jets, the AV-8B Harriers from VMA-223 are attack aircraft, geared toward supporting the Marine on the ground. With vertical take-off and landing capabilities and a formidable arsenal of ground-oriented weapons, Harriers are the embodiment of close-air support and a testament to the mission of Marine aviation.
For March, Miramar has been home for the Bulldogs of VMA-223 to hone their attack skills, providing what Gore described as the perfect place for the squadron’s Marines to sharpen their skills for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The sunny skies over San Diego offer surprising similarities to what VMA-223 Marines will face in Afghanistan.
“Our average sortie duration here is three to three and a half hours. It’s very representative of what Marine fixed-wing attack pilots fly in theater,” said Gore. “It is also a busier air space, representative of what pilots might encounter in Afghanistan.”
Capt. Brian R. Boston, a pilot with VMA-223, described precisely how a typical sortie in Miramar reflected conditions in Afghanistan.
Boston said the pilots at VMA-223 had to communicate with air traffic control to coordinate the take-off and departure from the hectic airspace surrounding MCAS Miramar and San Diego. From there, they flew to either MCAS Yuma, Ariz., or Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., to utilize the bombing and target ranges at those installations.
Boston said he and the other pilots had the opportunity to hone their close-air support skills with forward-fixed munitions and high-explosive ordnance.
“We have practiced how to effectively move from a busy airspace to a tactical airspace,” Boston said.
Boston stated at the end of the training at Miramar, he felt better prepared for his deployment to Afghanistan.
“When we first showed up here I had quite a few learning points I needed to work on,” Boston said. “Now I feel like every pilot in this squadron is where they need to be. This exercise was integral in that.”
Gore said it is not just the pilots who benefitted from the training.
The maintenance tempo from flying more than 500 flight hours in one month benefits everyone, said Gore, especially the enlisted Marines who must ensure the jets are properly maintained, fueled and the ordnance is loaded correctly.
“This is a team effort,” said Sgt. Maj. Steven P. Brunner, the sergeant major of VMA-223. “Every single Marine here is important. If one of us fails, we all fail.”
Cpl. Timothy K. Flick, a fixed-wing airframes mechanic with the squadron, said the drive among the junior Marines in VMA-223 was very high.
“I’m really excited to be here, it’s beautiful here,” Flick said. “We’re working 12 hours on and 12 hours off with weekends free, so we’re learning a lot and then we try to keep fit and have a good time on the weekends.”
Flick said he and other Marines in the squadron used their time off to visit attractions like the San Diego Zoo and Sea World.
“Morale is very high,” Flick said. “This detachment was a nice opportunity to bond and work hard to hone our techniques. Our success comes from the noncommissioned officers and the way we’re all treated. Our commanding officer and sergeant major talk to us and really take time to explain why things need to be done, so we just hammer away to execute the mission.”
Brunner echoed Flick’s sentiments.
“The Marines are excited and motivated to be here,” Brunner said. “They don’t want to let the command down, and we take good care of them.”