KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
Singled out by their red helmets, ordnance Marines can be seen as the muscle of a squadron, the ones who provide weaponry and ensure each aircraft is battle ready.
But at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Marine Attack Squadron 513 ordnance Marines stand out for another reason. The Marines recently achieved an AV-8B Harrier first, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rich Karren, the VMA-513 ordnance officer and Smithfield, Utah, native.
VMA-513 became the first land-based Marine Corps Harrier squadron to employ a laser-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, the GBU-54, in combat, Karren said.
This guided bomb gives the Harrier pilots both the capability to target fixed positions, like an insurgent stronghold, with GPS technology; as well as the ability to provide precision strikes on moving enemy targets, by using the bomb as a laser-guided weapon.
Karren added that VMA-513 has also become the first Marine Corps Harrier squadron in combat to position the aircraft’s weapon targeting system on the belly of the jet.
The new centerline configuration allows ordnance Marines to arm the Harrier with one more bomb, effectively doubling its payload, to provide added support for Marines on the ground, and their Afghan and coalition partners.
“It’s the first time we’ve done it in combat,” explained Staff Sgt. Joshua Gray, a VMA-513 ordnance staff noncommissioned officer in charge and Orlando, Fla., native. “The modification to the aircraft is really new.”
Although the Marines did not practice arming the modified Harrier before deploying from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Karren said the ordnance Marines are adjusting well to the increased load, as well as the deployed environment itself.
“It’s been a completely seamless transition,” he said. “It took a couple of times for the aircraft coming back empty for them to see what’s going on and how critical their job is.”
If there was any doubt in the Marines’ minds as to how ordnance plays a role in current operations, it’s gone now, Karren said.
“You know what the purpose of everything is now,” said Lance Cpl. Shawn McCarty, a VMA-513 ordnance technician and Rochelle, Ill., native. “In Yuma you’re training, but here you’re actually saving people.”
“We’re the defense mechanism for not only the pilots, but the guys on the ground,” explained Staff Sgt. Eugene Langan, a VMA-513 ordnance noncommissioned officer in charge and Madison, Conn., native. “This is where our job means the most.”
Perhaps symbolic of the role ordnance technicians play, they are the last to handle the Harrier before it takes off when they arm it, and the first to greet it upon landing to disarm the aircraft.
Save for Karren and the staff noncommissioned officers, most of the ordnance Marines have only deployed with Marine Expeditionary Units aboard U.S. Navy ships, but the Marines got a taste of working in a forward environment during Enhanced Mojave Viper in March.
Enhanced Mojave Viper, held at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., is a training exercise for Marine Corps units before deployment. There, the Marines worked 12-hour shifts in an austere desert environment, much as they do here.
“It’s like the game on Friday night after we’ve practiced all week,” said Cpl. Joseph Millunzi, of his deployment to Afghanistan. Millunzi, a Lodi, Calif., native, serves as a Marine Attack Squadron 513 ordnance technician.
“I appreciate all the time it takes to learn the job,” he added.
Learning the job is a bit different for today’s ordnance technicians than their predecessors, the ordnance Marines said.
“All the GPS-guided bombs, those have all developed since I’ve come in,” said Karren, who was a corporal when the GPS-only JDAM was initially introduced to the Harrier’s arsenal.
Thanks to advancements in weapons technology, modern Marine Corps aviators can choose to hit general areas or a specific target within moments. But as the precision-guided arsenal of modern Marine Corps attack jets grows, so too must the knowledge of the men and women entrusted with its ordnance.
“The Marines are becoming so much more technically proficient on the weapons and weapons systems,” said Karren.
The proficiency is necessary to ensure maximum accuracy on targets.
“The ordnance systems have evolved to hitting specific targets instead of a large area, reducing unnecessary damage,” said Millunzi.
Only three months ago the Marines were in garrison where the only things destroyed by their efforts were wooden targets. Now they are destroying insurgent efforts in destabilizing the region.
“It’s good to know we’re helping the country, helping to stand it up and helping its people get rid of tyrants,” Millunzi said.
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