As it returns from its first combat deployment, the Marines' version of the F-35 is no longer a baby-faced boot.
F-35Bs flew more than 100 combat sorties against the Taliban and ISIS while deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, said Lt. Col. Kyle Shoop, commander of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211.
"We overall supported more than 50 days of combat flying for over 1,200 flight hours," Shoop told Task & Purpose. "We supported both Operation Freedom's Sentinel up in the Afghanistan region as well as Operation Inherent Resolve over Syria/Iraq. We employed ordnance in both theaters on numerous days," Shoop said. "Every single one of the pilots employed ordnance in theater. So, we were very busy."
The aircraft that flew the mission had two names inscribed on it, Shoop said: Medal of Honor recipient Capt.Henry Talmage "Hammering Hank" Elrod and Lt .Col. Christopher "Otis" Raible, the squadron's former commander, who was killed in 2012 while repelling a Taliban attack on Camp Bastion while armed only with a pistol.
During its deployment, the F-35B squadron flew close air support missions over both Afghanistan and Syria, Shoop said. In Syria, the aircraft also helped assess the damage done by coalition airstrikes in bad weather because the F-35's radar is far better than the F/A-18 Hornets' sensors.
Neither Syrian or Russian air defenses attempted to engage the F-35Bs during the missions against ISIS, he said.
"We would see Russian airplanes airborne as well as Syrian, but everyone maintained their lines of de-confliction that were set up prior," Shoop said.
Overall, the F-35 exceeded expectations during its first deployment, Shoop said. The squadron was able to keep 75 percent of its aircraft operational at all times, allowing it to "fly pretty much at will."
All of the F-35 pilots were awarded air medals because of the high number of combat missions they flew, said Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer of the 13th MEU.
Some of the MEU's Marines also contributed to the fight against ISIS, Nelms said. An infantry platoon and a CH-53E detachment went to Iraq to provide a reaction force and assault support airlift, and an artillery platoon deployed to Syria with M777 Howitzers.
Nelms declined to say if any of his Marines had been nominated for valor awards.
The Essex is slated to return home soon, but not everyone with the MEU is coming back. Cpl. Jonathan Currier was declared dead in August after falling overboard in the Mindanao Sea. Currier was a CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief.
"The loss of Cpl. Currier is felt across the MEU and across the ARG [amphibious ready group] and it has been since last August," Nelms said. "Everybody misses him. We just recently held a memorial on our return transit to continue our remembrance of his selfless service and honor his life. It was a tough loss and our hearts just really go out to his family."
The Trump administration is trying to assure Congress that it does not want to start a war with Iran, but some lawmakers who fought in Iraq are not so sure.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford both briefed Congress on Tuesday about Iran. Shanahan told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. military buildup in the region has stopped Iran and its proxies from attacking U.S. forces, but the crisis is not yet over.
"We've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans," Shanahan said. "That doesn't mean that the threats that we've previously identified have gone away. Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region."
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Handout via REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with "great force" if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone.
"I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything," Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. "If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will."
After a year and a half since the Army took delivery on the first of its souped-up new version of the M1 Abrams main battle tank, the Pentagon's Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio is ramping up to deliver the service's first full brigade of upgraded warhorses to bring the pain downrange.
On Tuesday, two political veterans groups, one on the left, the other on the right, announced a new lobbying campaign aimed at ending America's 'forever wars.'
In a video tied to the announcement, Dan Caldwell, the senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative veterans' group, and Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets, a liberal vets group which aims to get former service members into office, laid out their plan for a lobbying campaign aimed at changing policy on how the United States wages war.