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VMA-211 returns from Operation Iraqi Freedom

By Sgt. David A. Bryant | | May 22, 2003

Members of Marine Attack Squadron-211 returned this weekend from a four-month tour of duty overseas as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The main body of approximately 130 Marines and sailors came in late Friday night, ten pilots with their aircraft flew in Saturday afternoon, and the remaining six pilots and aircraft returned later in the week.

The deployment "was fun," said Lance Cpl. Diego Betancourt, avionics technician. "There was a much higher operational tempo out there than here. This was my first deployment, and it made it more exciting knowing we were going to war. It's good to be home, though."

Family and friends of the returning Marines and sailors, holding signs saying "welcome home," were on hand to greet their loved ones. Brig. Gen. Terry G. Robling, assistant wing commander for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, also attended, joining Col. James J. Cooney, station commanding officer, in welcoming home the 3rd MAW personnel.

The AV-8B Harrier squadron was stationed on the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) and flew approximately 600 missions during the deployment, said Maj. Chris Kyler, operations officer. The unit's mission is to provide close-air support, conduct armed reconnaissance and limited air defense to Marine expeditionary forces.

"And we did all of it out there," he said. "The close-air support, the recon missions and the aerial interdictions."

For Becky Luckie, whose husband did not fly in until Tuesday, the extra few days waiting for her husband was a chance to get all the last-minute tasks taken care of.

"It's actually kind of nice because now I have everything done," she said. "We won't be jumping through hoops when he does get here. And it's kind of nice to see everyone else coming home, especially when you know your husband is not far behind."

Operation Iraqi Freedom was the third deployment for the Luckies. The second, Afghanistan, was the hardest for them, because it was the first time her husband had deployed to a combat environment.

"He was much more confident this time because he knew what he'd be doing," Luckie said. "It was a little scary because of the possibility of them using chemical weapons on our guys, but otherwise it was sort of like having a baby  the first time you don't know what to expect, but the second one you already know it will be hard and you won't get any sleep."

"I wouldn't really say things were easier this time, because it's never easy," said Capt. Scott Luckie, Harrier pilot. "It's just great to be home   great to see my family, great to see my kids."

Deploying to a combat theater represented a completely different mind-set, said Capt. Matt Haefner, Harrier pilot, who was met by his wife Jennifer and 5-year-old son Alex.

"The biggest difference was that [the Iraqi military] shot back at us," he said. "It was a lot more stressful than a normal deployment. It's just really good to be home."

VMA-211 personnel will have the opportunity to take a few weeks of leave before returning to a full maintenance status in June.

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