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Marine Corps Harriers return to Afghanistan

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One of the first Marine Corps Harrier squadrons to see action in Afghanistan has returned after nearly a decade.

Marine Attack Squadron 513, which first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002, will also be the first Marine Corps Harrier squadron to fully operate in Afghanistan since the departure of VMA-231 in 2010.

“We were the first deployed out here, and now my Marines are ready, trained, equipped and motivated to get moving on this deployment,” said Sgt. Maj. Scott E. Cooper, the VMA-513 sergeant major, and a native of Huntington Beach, Calif. “I have complete faith in them for success.”

The AV-8B Harrier is a short take-off, vertical landing aircraft the Marine Corps has used since 1985. 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) employs the Harrier as a close air support aircraft for Marine, Afghan and coalition troops on the ground in southwestern Afghanistan.

Beginning May 24, the AV-8B Harriers of VMA-513 will provide close air support for Marines and their Afghan and coalition partners operating in southwestern Afghanistan, as the F/A-18 Hornets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 prepare to return home to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

“I am proud of my Marines and what they have accomplished out here during the deployment,” Lt. Col. John A. Bolt, the VMFA-122 commanding officer, and a native of Tavares, Fla. “These Marines are the future of the Marine Corps and it gives me hope for the future of Marine Corps aviation.”

The Marines and sailors of VMFA-122 spent seven months at Afghanistan’s Kandahar Airfield, from which they provided close air support for U.S. Marines, and Afghan, British, Georgian and other combined team forces operating in Nimroz and Helmand provinces.

“The Marines are going to be able to slow down for a couple months, recuperate and regenerate,” said Sgt. Maj. David A. Cadd, the VMFA-122 sergeant major. “They are true warriors. They worked tirelessly and lived up to their missions. Their mission was to ensure those ground troops were protected as best as possible and they accomplished that.”

According to Bolt, VMFA-122 was the first Marine Corps squadron deployed to Afghanistan to use the GBU-54 Joint Direct Attack Munition, a laser-guided bomb kit that allows for traditionally unguided weapons to be used in precision strikes.

“That was a success for us,” said Bolt. “It allowed us to engage multiple targets and better support the ground troops.”

Cooper, VMA-513’s senior enlisted Marine, said that this is the first deployment for many of the Marines in his squadron, but he believes the Marines are well trained, capable and ready.

“There is nothing impossible for the Marines of the squadron,” said Cooper. “Their hearts are in the right places, they are focused on their missions and they want to be here.”

“I’m excited to be out here on a combat deployment,” said Cpl. Brandon W. Keilers, a fixed-wing aircraft mechanic with VMA-513, and a native of Tomball, Texas. “This is what I’ve wanted to do since I joined and now I’m finally here doing what I love.”

Article by Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington, 2nd Marine Air Wing