Playboys on the prowl: The Marines of VMAQ-2
It is 6:30 a.m. Afghanistan time as the U.S. Marines prepare their equipment for the day’s mission. With rehearsed precision they go through the same motions they’ve performed daily throughout their deployment to Afghanistan. Weapons are checked and loaded; vests and helmets are donned.
A few minutes later the team steps to the staging area. Several more Marines are waiting for them, preparing their vehicle for the mission. It’s a scene that plays out every day in Afghanistan. But here at Bagram Air Field the Marines bring a very different vehicle to the fight: the EA-6B Prowler.
These are the men and women of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron-2 “Death Jesters” -though they prefer their vintage squadron moniker, the “Playboys,” a nod to the 100th anniversary of U.S. Marine Corps Aviation. They provide top cover on the electromagnetic spectrum to coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“The EA-6B is one of the only aircraft in the United States’ inventory that’s designed specifically to go out there and support coalition ground forces with electromagnetic support, electronic attack and to basically control the electromagnetic spectrum throughout the battle space,” said Marine Capt. Dan Gibbon, a pilot assigned to VMAQ-2 from Tacoma, Wash.
In a fight where the enemy is constantly updating their unconventional tactics, having a dedicated electronic warfare platform keeping watch over coalition forces can prove vital and the Marines of VMAQ-2 are well equipped to meet this mission.
“With the EA-6B we’re capable of not only detecting certain signals of interest but also bringing to bear some electronic counter measures to negate the enemy’s ability to use those signals against our troops on the ground,” said Marine Capt. Garon Taylor-Tyree, a VMAQ-2 electronic countermeasures officer from Gettysburg, Pa.
Keeping these specialized aircraft ready to fly is no easy task, which is why EA-6B aircrews trust their aircraft to a skilled team of mechanics who work day-and-night to keep the squadron’s Prowlers in the fight.
“On an average day it takes about 60 Marines to keep the plane going. There are 10 different shops. Each shop has its own part in keeping the jet up,” said Lance Cpl. Calvin Spears, an EA-6B Prowler plane captain with VMAQ-2 from Centreville, Ill.
“I inspect the jet, and make sure it’s ready for flight. I also launch the jets.”
The aircrews and maintainers of VMAQ-2 enjoy a close bond of mutual trust and respect.
“The main piece is really the maintainers. We’re just the guys who operate the airframe. The guys who are turning wrenches on the jet are the guys in our squadron who really deserve a lot of the credit,” said Gibbon. “If we bring back a broken jet, which hopefully we don’t, they work their tails off and turn the jet around to make sure it’s ready to go the next day for us so we can go out there and help the coalition forces.”
This tight relationship is tested daily as aircrews and maintainers, rely solely on hand signals to communicate during pre-flight checks over the ear-piercing roar of the Prowler’s twin jet engines.
“You have to maintain a good relationship with the pilot,” Spears said. “If you have a bad relationship than you get bad communications and miscommunication can lead to accidents. It’s very important to make sure the jets are safe and the pilots are safe… everybody has to be safe.”
Being deployed to Bagram, a U.S. Air Force airfield, also presents its own unique challenges, but the Marines have found the airmen of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing to be excellent hosts.
“There’s definitely a few integration challenges, but the whole time we’ve been here the Air Force has been great to work with. The 455th has been nothing short of excellent to work with. They’ve been very great providing any services we need to operate out of here,” said Gibbon.
The Air Force provides dedicated support to the Marines, ensuring they have the support needed to perform their vital mission.
“The Air Force has been a generous host, getting along with them has certainly not been an issue. They’ve been able to provide us with all the capabilities that we need for the maintenance aspects of our squadron as well as provide all the bed down and other essential aspects to the mission that we require,” Taylor-Tyree said.
That spirit of partnership is a core component of the success of VMAQ-2 here in Afghanistan.
“Over all it has been a very rewarding experience here at Bagram. We’ve been able to work with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” said Gibbon.
He added that he’s also worked with British, French and Italian forces in his time here.
“It’s really awesome to see the integration piece, working with all different forces towards one mission and getting the job done together,” Gibbon said.
But for these aviators and maintainers, the greatest reward is knowing that the effects they produce are defending their fellow Marines and other coalition forces on the ground.
“I’ve got to say we get an immense sense of pride for supporting our brothers in the Marine Corps, wherever we’re airborne over their units,” Garon said. “Every member of the aircrew, every member of the squadron is dedicated to doing the utmost that we can to keep those troops safe.”
And so, the “Playboys” continue their daily drill; gearing up and rolling out every day, just like the Marines they fly to protect.
“We’ve been working hard to get to this point,” Gibbon said. “So, to be here, to be executing our mission, to be doing what we’ve trained to do is awesome.”
Article by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing