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Marine Corps Hornets, Harriers team up for tandem operations in Afghanistan

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There was a different sort of roar across the southwestern Afghan skies, May 21. For the past year, Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets reigned over the airspace, providing much needed close-air support to coalition forces below.

But for the first time since May 2010, another Marine Corps jet soared overhead – no better friend for coalition troops in Nimroz and Helmand provinces. No worse enemy for the insurgents who operate in southwestern Afghanistan.

AV-8B Harriers with Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron 513 joined the Hornets that day, supporting NATO International Security Assistance Force operations in Afghanistan.

"Fixed-wing aircraft that support joint tactical air requests are critical," said Brig. Gen. Glenn M. Walters, the commanding general of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "We're a key element in the Helmand and Nimroz provinces."

The two provinces are known areas of insurgency, and VMA-513, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lee, the Harrier squadron’s commanding officer, will help "neutralize or eliminate mid- to high- level insurgent control structure."

"We're allowing people to rebuild their lives," said Walters, "to teach their children to improve their lives and how to live like free people."

During combat deployments, unit turnovers include a transfer of authority, a formal act where the outgoing squadron or battalion relinquishes the area of operations to the incoming unit.

As part of their transfer of authority, VMFA-122 and VMA-513 flew the skies of Afghanistan together, less than a day after Lee landed the squadron’s flagship AV-8B at Kandahar Airfield.

"It is uncommon for different type-model-series fixed-wing aircraft to fly as a section during combat operations," explained Capt. Jonathan Reed, a VMFA-122 F/A-18 Hornet pilot and Tombalo, Texas, native.

"As far as working with them, that was the first time I've done it, and it was no problem at all," explained Capt. Andrew Biddell, a VMA-513 pilot.

Flying together in sections, the VMFA-122 Werewolves helped familiarize the Harriers of their new area of operations, the dust-colored blanket of land not too dissimilar from the ranges of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., that VMA-513 calls home.

The operations also included aerial refueling, courtesy of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, stationed in Cherry Point, N.C., whose KC-130J Hercules aircraft supported both platforms.

"I would say it's a milestone," said Reed, whose squadron recently completely its second combat tour since Vietnam. "Both pilot communities are very well-versed in (close-air support)."

Another milestone for the Werewolves, as well as the Marine Corps, was the first employment of employ the GBU-54 for an F/A-18 squadron in the Corps. The GBU-54 is a laser-based bomb guidance system that provides greater precision in targeting both stationary and moving targets.

The Nightmares, for their part, are the first Harrier squadron entering the fray since VMA-231 departed Afghanistan in May 2010, and VMA-513 is also underway on its first Afghanistan deployment since 2003.

"We're confident that we'll provide the same quality level of support that VMFA-122 provided," said Lee. "There will be no degradation in support."

Article by Pfc. Sean Dennison, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd)