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Lance Cpl. Aaron Neal, right, Lance Cpl. Manuel GarciaRamirez and Lance Cpl. Eddie Tapia, Marine Attack Squadron 311 powerline mechanics, prepare an AV-8B Harrier engine to be reinstalled into a Harrier after maintenance in the squadron’s hangar at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., Aug. 4, 2009. The squadron was named the attack squadron of the year by the Marine Corps Aviation Association July 28, 2009, for its constant mission readiness and overall performance at home and on deployments. The Tomcats beat out six other squadrons to earn the title, which they have received three times before.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard

Yuma's VMA-311 named attack squadron of the year

6 Aug 2009 | Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard

Yuma's Marine Attack Squadron 311 was named the attack squadron of the year award by the Marine Corps Aviation Association July 28, 2009.

The Tomcats were recognized for their mission readiness and overall performance between May 1, 2008, and April 30, 2009.

“They are, no doubt, the best squadron this year,” said Lt. Col. Tim Hogan, MCAA awards coordinator.

This is the fourth year VMA-311 has earned the MCAA’s Lawson H.M. Sanderson Award, for the Corps’ top Harrier squadron.

“The squadron was recently in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a detachment was deployed on the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit,” said Maj. James Vallario, VMA-311 operations officer. “I think it was the challenges of breaking up the squadron into two parts and still accomplishing the mission that made the squadron stand out.”

Splitting in two demands the squadron’s resources and leadership be seamlessly divided up between the main body and the detachment, allowing each to maintain functionality, said Vallario. Furthermore, each separate body of the squadron has to operate independent from the other.

“Over the past year, the Tomcats of Marine Attack Squadron 311 faced the daunting task of executing simultaneous deployments to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, and aboard the USS Peleliu,” the award citation states.

Simultaneous deployments, however, were not the deciding factor in the squadron’s selection.

“In the end, both the maintenance Marines and the pilots came together and executed the mission flawlessly,” said Vallario. “If we don’t have working jets, we can’t train, and if we can’t train, we can’t be ready for deployment. I think this award is, in big part, thanks to those Marines.”

VMA-311 has had a very successful maintenance history for the past year, said Vallario.

“Despite significant challenges, the Tomcats achieved mission success, and while doing so, executed nearly 4,500 flight hours without experiencing a single flight-related mishap,” the citation states.

According to the citation, the squadron never missed an assigned target or experienced weapons system malfunctions in combat missions during its deployment to Iraq.

“They look for squadrons to be professional, well trained and up to standards,” said Lt. Col. Michael Gough, commanding officer of the squadron based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.

The squadron had fallen behind on air-to-air combat training requirements, due to repeated deployments and the fact that current operational needs stress air-to-air combat less than in the past, said Capt. Scott Farrar, pilot. However, the squadron renewed its qualifications as a whole by sending the majority of its personnel to training at Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., in April.

“The squadron is always looking for new ways to train to be ready for deployment,” said Gough.

The squadron plans to attend the 38th Annual MCAA Symposium and Awards Dinner at Reno, Nev., in October, where it will be recognized and awarded a trophy for its accomplishment. A plaque will also be sent to the Flying Leatherneck Museum in San Diego to showcase and archive the squadron’s success, along with previous attack squadrons of the year.

The award is named after Maj. Gen. Lawson Sanderson, who was a pioneer in the development of dive bombing and close-air support, and has been presented nearly every year since 1979. Yuma’s four Harrier squadrons have been named attack squadron of the year 14 out of 29 years.

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