KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Kandahar province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — From flying in Nicaragua in 1919, to providing close air support in Afghanistan 90 years later, Marine Attack Squadron 231, nicknamed the "Ace of Spades," holds a place in history as the oldest squadron in the Marine Corps.
"Keeping up with tradition is important because Marines have gone forth and done wonderful things in the past and we have to make them proud," said Capt. Adam Campbell, an AV-8B Harrier pilot with VMA-231.
As the decades passed and the aircraft used by the squadron have evolved, the mission of the Ace of Spades, for the most part, has remained the same.
In Afghanistan, the Ace of Spades has to coordinate with the other squadrons of Marine Aircraft Group 40 to support the various missions of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan.
"We've conducted long-range escorts with V-22 Ospreys and CH-53 Super Stallions for all types of operations since day one," said Lt. Col. David Forrest, the commanding officer of VMA-231 and an AV-8B Harrier pilot.
The Ace of Spades has provided close air support and information surveillance reconnaissance as its primary missions here. However, they have been tasked with additional responsibilities as well.
"We also locate enemy positions and conduct 'patterns of life' operations," said Forrest. "We provide the over watch and carry the big stick for the Marines on the ground."
Regardless of the type of mission, the Marines of VMA-231 come to work with a combat ready mindset.
"We prepare ourselves for the best- and worst-case scenarios before every flight," said Campbell. "There is nothing different between missions and we are ready to provide close air support for every flight, if we need to."
In order for the pilots to provide the air combat support needed for ground units, they rely on the squadron's maintenance Marines to keep the aircraft fit for duty.
"Although we are the ones flying the actual missions and supporting the Marines on the ground, none of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication that our Marines put in day in and day out," said Campbell. "Our maintenance Marines make what we do possible."
"It is good to know that the work I do keeps our aircraft in the air," said Lance Cpl. Gabriel Valdez, an airframes mechanic with VMA-231.
Before arriving to Afghanistan and replacing VMA-214 in November 2009, the Ace of Spades had to complete a rigorous training schedule.
"To qualify for this deployment, we participated in Mojave Viper, Advanced Mojave Viper and Operation Green Flag in Barksdale, Louisiana," said Forrest. "All of our pilots got their hours in and we even got to participate in a combined air exercise with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, who is out here also."
There has been no shortage of responsibilities for the Marines of VMA-231 since they arrived here, but the Marines are determined to live up to the 90 year history set before them.
"We are happy to be at the forefront of history and to continue the legacy that was established by the Marines in 1919," said Forrest.
This work, VMA-231 remains in the sky after 90 years, by Sgt Samuel A. Nasso, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.