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Yuma pilots hone Harrier skills in Alaskan airspace

15 Apr 2010 | Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison

Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 211 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 left Yuma for Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base April 13, 2010, trading sand for snow to participate in one of the United States’ largest joint-service exercises.

The more than 170 Marines and eight AV-8B Harriers will spend approximately two-and-a-half weeks training in Exercise Red Flag practicing aerial refueling and dropping ordnance.

While the Avengers’ primary focus will be close-air-support, the Air Force’s 18th Aggressor Squadron will provide an aerial threat for VMA-211 to deal with, said Capt. Andrew Kano, squadron pilot.

“In an actual combat environment, the Air Force will provide the necessary air superiority while we maintain a self-defensive capability,” said Capt. Kevin Smalley, VMA-211 pilot. “They protect us so we can protect the troops on the ground.”

Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada also hosts Red Flag, but the scope of the exercise is greatly magnified in Alaska, with Eielson’s approximately 67,000 square miles of working airspace. Alaska’s Red Flag has included as many as 16 squadrons at a time, sometimes drawing air force units from as far away as South Korea and the Philippines.

VMA-211 and MALS-13 are the only Marine participants adding their Harriers to the more than 100 aircraft slated to participate in the exercise, ranging from F-16 Fighting Falcons and B-52 Stratofortresses.

For some Marines, this is the first time working with other services, giving them a taste of what they may encounter on deployment.

“Any time we go into theater, joint operations is the name of the game,” said Kano.

Red Flag completes predeployment training for the Avengers, preparing them for their probable deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

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