Historic Marine Harrier squadron sunsets because the Corps seems to the F-35
On Thursday, the Marine Corps held a sunset ceremony for Marine Attack Squadron 311 or VMA-311 as the Corps plans to switch from the AV-8B Harrier to the F-35 Lightning, according to the Marine Corps.
Known for a number of historic novelties, the unit will merge with one of the Marine Corps’ most famous squadrons, VMA-214, the Black Sheep, according to a Marine Corps press release.
Eventually the VMA-214 will go down as well and a new Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 311 unit will be formed to fly the F-35B Lightning out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, a representative from the 3rd Marine Air Wing said.
Marine Attack Squadron 311, the Tomcats, was formed in Cherry Point, North Carolina in 1942 and almost immediately fitted with new F4U-1 Corsairs and shipped to the Pacific to fight the Japanese.
On October 6, 1943, the squadron took part in one of the first catapult operations with corsairs when they took off from the deck of the escort carrier Nassau.
History made history again in 1948 when, according to the history page, the Tomcats were the first squadron in the Marine Corps to receive jets.
These jets were used well during the Korean War, when the squadron flew 18,851 close combat missions in two and a half years, including missions that supported the 8th Army during their time in the Chosin Reservoir, the page says.
The squadron continued to provide air support during the Vietnam War and flew 54,625 sorties, according to the history page.
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The squadron continued to collect historic innovations: the first squadron to fly the AV-8B Harrier in combat during Operation Desert Shield, the first to deploy Harriers in Afghanistan and then take part in the first combat mission of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The serious Tomcats have an exceptional level of esprit de corps, equivalent to 78 years of superior performance,” said the squadron’s sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Colin Barry, said in a press release.
“The Tomcats have put together an unmatched level of morale, but I have no doubt that the newly adopted VMA-214 Black Sheep identity will be adopted and they will continue to perform well.”
The Black Sheep Squadron was also formed in 1942 and quickly became one of the Marine Corps’ most effective fighter squadrons during World War II.
In 1976 NBC premiered “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” a military drama, comedy show about the exploits of the seasons and its famous first commander, Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.
The squadron got its unusual nickname from the unique way it was created in 1943, according to the unit’s history page.
Boyington, who returned to the Corps as part of the Flying Tigers after a year battling the Japanese in China, took on 27 unassigned pilots and had them trained and ready to fight the Japanese in less than four weeks, according to the history page.
In flying the F4-U Corsair, the squadron damaged or destroyed 203 Japanese aircraft, had 97 confirmed air-to-air kills, and produced eight aces. Boyington received the Medal of Honor for his role in training and leading the squadron into battle, according to the unit’s history page.
Both VMA-214 and VMA-311 are part of Marine Air Group 13 based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
After the VMA-311 sundown, the VMA-214 will be the only squadron in MAG-13 still flying the AV-8B Harrier, Captain Joseph Butterfield, a Marine Corps spokesman, told the Marine Corps Times in an email on Friday.
Three other active fleet squadrons, VMA-542, VMA-223, and VMA-231, and one training squadron, VMAT-203, all based at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina, still use the AV-8B Harrier. Butterfield added.