News: VMA-542 returns from Asia-Pacific deployment
Story by Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. - A detachment of 122 Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 542 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Sunday from a deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which patrols the Asia-Pacific region.
A Marine expeditionary unit is a seaborne force of about 2,000 Marines and Sailors with its own ground, air, and logistical support elements capable of projecting power quickly and conducting a broad spectrum of military operations. The VMA-542 detachment, with six AV-8B Harriers, provided a close-air support capability for the past six months with the MEU.
VMA-542 spent a lot of time conducting integration exercises with the Navy, Marine ground forces, and foreign militaries. In Guam, the MEU was certified for conducting operations in a wartime environment with the squadron training to provide deep strikes against enemy defenses and covering an amphibious landing with close-air support. The squadron also flew alongside the Philippine military and practiced operations with them.
“It’s a much more operational environment than [in garrison],” said Capt. Kevin Hughes, the quality assurance officer for the squadron. “Everybody gets to work together. We get to brief, fly, debrief, and really focus on what we do during those training times and working up for the possibilities of supporting actual operations.”
Hughes also said it is an intense experience because the ship's runway is about 800 feet long, whereas a land-based runways average about 7,000 feet.
After six months of bilateral training and patrolling the Pacific, the Marines came home to share their experiences with family and friends. Lance Cpl. Vance L. Jensen Jr., an aircraft safety equipment mechanic with VMA-542, was born into a family of military service and said deployments strengthen the family bond.
“It’s pretty different, coming home for the first time,” said Jensen. “Not only do I get to experience the stuff they experienced, but I also get to experience new stuff and tell them about it.”
“I’m very proud of him,” said Vernon Bithell, Jensen’s grandfather and a retired chief petty officer who served from 1962 to 1989. “It’s pretty exciting. In all those years, my family would be waiting on the pier for the ship to come in. It’s about the same thing, but I’ve never been on this end of it.”