MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Cupid missed his mark with the Marines of Marine Attack Squadron 214 this Valentine’s Day.
Marines from a VMA-214 Black Sheep detachment left their friends and families behind Feb. 14 when they boarded a bus bound for San Diego and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The Black Sheep then transformed into Seaelk when they joined Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced) aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu. For the next several months, 11th MEU Marines will be providing military force projection and regional security throughout the Pacific Ocean and Arabic Gulf regions.
Many Black Sheep are already familiar with the MEU experience.
“I’m looking forward to another ride with the 11th MEU,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Desanto, VMA-214 embark chief. “I extended to go out one more time. I’ll be making fat stacks of cash for when I get out.”
While some VMA-214 Marines have already floated across the Pacific on their way to Iraq for previous deployments, others made their way to the battle zone via the air-express route.
“This is going to be my first (ship) deployment. It’s going to be a lot different than just flying to Iraq like before,” said Capt. Derek Bibby, VMA-214 AV-8B Harrier II pilot. “The MEU mission is our bread and butter as Harrier guys and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s kind of the reason the Harrier exists.”
Preparation, an essential asset to any operation, has put some of the younger Marines at ease by giving them a taste of what they can expect during the upcoming months.
“The workups were great,” said Lance Cpl. William Meiss, VMA-214 aviation electrician. “I finally got an idea of what my job will be when we are on the boat. I got a taste of (ship) life. I’m excited for this deployment. It’s my first one. I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing the world.”
During the workup, some Marines were worked aboard ship for the first time, while pilots were logging flight hours at sea.
“We’ve been doing the normal workups and flying mostly MEU training missions,” said Bibby, a native of Yuma, Ariz. “We’ve also been flying quite a few standard training missions in case we end up going to Iraq again.”
The squadron’s embarkation Marines are just happy that the deployment is finally underway.
“It’s been tough to prepare for this deployment from an embark perspective,” said Desanto, a native of Oakland, Calif. “We had three workups for this MEU. Now that we are actually leaving, I only have to move our gear a couple more times. I’m ready to roll.”
Family members and friends were waiting with Marines when the buses arrived to escort the Marines away.
“It sucks that we’re leaving on Valentines Day, but we’ve got to go. I’m still excited about going. This is my first (ship deployment),” said Lance Cpl. Travis Derwin, VMA-214 avionics technician. “I just have a lot more responsibilities for this deployment than the last one because I have a wife, son and bills to think about. My son is seven months old and I’m going to miss him crawling, walking and eventually talking.
“I’m still going to be focused on work and making it back home,” explained the Wells, N.Y., native. “I might be thinking about when I will be going home a little more this time though.”
Lance Cpl. Jason Riggins, VMA-214 avionics technician, said that leaving on Valentine’s Day would never lower his morale.
“I love this country. I’m always ready to go,” said the Columbia, Tenn., native. “I took care of my Valentine’s Day business with my wife ahead of time. Marines deploy; that’s what we do.”
While single Marines may not have had to part with their families, at least one Marine had to separate with something personal that he held dear.
“I don’t have any hearts to break,” said Desanto, “but I did have a hard time parting with my car.”