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Two Yuma-based squadrons named best in Corps by aviation association

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | February 25, 2010

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Two Yuma-based squadrons, which spent much of last year in Afghanistan, were named among the Marine Corps’ best aviation units in 2009 on Feb. 23, 2010.

Marine Attack Squadron 214 earned the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s award for the top Harrier squadron, while Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 claimed the honor of best aviation support unit.

Three MWSS-371 Marines also won individual awards.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathan Young was named the Corps’ top aviation ground officer, and Master Sgt. Steven Lemke was named the aviation ground Marine of the year. Sgt. Ryan Fuss earned the James E. Nicholson Award for leadership by a noncommissioned officer.

The full list of the 27 different MCAA award winners was released in Marine Administrative Message 96/10.

VMA-214 has won the Lawson H.M. Sanderson Award, presented to the Corps’ attack squadron of the year, a total of four times. The squadron last won it in 1997, as well as in 1982 and 1987, while still stationed at the now-closed Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, Calif.

Also a repeat winner, MWSS-371 took the James E. Hatch Award, recognizing the year’s best wing support squadron, in 1999 and 2001.

After arriving in Afghanistan in March 2009, the Sandsharks of MWSS-371 paved the way for Marine air operations as the Corps stood up a brigade-sized force to secure the country’s Helmand Province.

The Sandsharks’ biggest accomplishment was constructing a 2.2-million-square-foot helicopter parking expansion using aluminum matting, the largest of its type ever built in combat zone. Assembled at Camp Bastion, the expanded airfield played a pivotal part of Operation Khanjar in July 2009, the largest heliborne operation conducted by the Corps since Vietnam.

The squadron also built an airstrip for cargo planes at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, Afghanistan. The airstrip significantly increased the supplies available to the remote base and reduced the need for supply convoys to spend hours on the dangerous roads.

While deployed to Afghanistan from May to November 2009, the Black Sheep of VMA-214 flew 1,374 missions, totaling more than 3,500 combat hours, and dropped more than 20,000 pounds of ordnance in support of various operations.

Flying an average of five missions a day, the Black Sheep maintained a perfect flight schedule, with no mishaps or cancelled missions.

Award winners will be honored during the 39th annual MCAA symposium and awards dinner held May 20-22 in Fort Worth, Texas. Yuma’s VMA-311 was the top attack squadron last year.


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