News: VMA-542, 231 land aboard USS Kearsarge
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
ABOARD USS KEARSARGE, At Sea – Marine air ground task forces carry airpower with them wherever they go, be it a full scale Marine Expeditionary Force or a smaller Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Harriers from Marine Attack Squadrons 542 and 231 arrived aboard the USS Kearsarge Feb. 1 to serve as part of the aviation combat element during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012, for which they plan to provide airpower in support of the largest amphibious exercise in the past 10 years.
The two squadrons plan to operate 12 AV-8B Harriers from the Kearsarge throughout the exercise.
“We’ll be conducting active air defense and combat air patrols to make sure that no other aircraft are going to come in and attack the ship,” said Capt. Arthur Q. Bruggeman, the director of safety and standardization for VMA-231. “We’ll execute offensive anti-air warfare by attacking the enemy’s aerial capability like air bases, anti-aircraft systems and other fighters. Additional offensive air support includes close air support, armed reconnaissance and strike coordination.”
Marines of VMA-231 and 542 will also be spending time getting acquainted with ship life which is different than operations from their home station of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
“This is my first time being on a ship before, so it’s different to see,” said Cpl. Blake R. Phillips, a Harrier engine mechanic for VMA-231. “Only about three of 27 of us in our shop have been on ship before for a deployment. When we do deploy, it would be easier to get in the swing of things because we already kind of know the ship.”
Getting to know the ship beforehand can pay dividends in a combat situation, according to Sgt. Kenneth W. Bowman, an aviation ordnance specialist of VMA-542. Bowman has had previous experience aboard ship.
“I’ve done several small things on ships, doing work ups and then went out on the Kearsarge,” said Bowman about his last deployment. “We were working all deployment long and at the end we hit Libya. Because of everything we had done up to that point we were moving bombs fast when it was time. We would send them out with full loads, they’d drop their bombs and come back, hit the deck without shutting down, reload them and send them back out again. If that crew had not had enough prior experience on the ship that would have been impossible.”
This exercise represents the Navy and Marine Corps’ revitalization of the full range of amphibious operations to include operating aviation combat elements from a sea-based platform. With the majority of Marines experiencing life on ship for the first time, this exercise will allow them to work under unique conditions from an amphibious ship.
“What’s unique to this, for a Harrier squadron, we usually identify nine pilots to work up for a Marine Expeditionary Unit,” said Bruggeman. “For us, we’re taking an entire squadron and putting them on one ship. We don’t usually get to work with F-18s, Prowlers and C-130s all in one exercise; that’s usually pretty difficult to coordinate.”
Bruggeman also said the exercise is unique because in a typical Marine Expeditionary Unit there are often various rotary wing aircraft operating from the same ship. During Bold Alligator, the Kearsarge plans to be a “Harrier carrier” vessel with no other Marine aircraft residing on board.