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Silver Eagles team with Truman group, cruise through OIF

By Lance Cpl. Micah B. Snead | | August 8, 2003

(Editors note: This article is the fourth of a four-part series that will look at the squadrons and Marines who recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to understand what mission they are focusing on now.)

In December, the Harry S. Truman Battle Group rolled across the Atlantic Ocean
towards the Mediterranean Sea.  By March, the war-fighting force of 12 naval ships and
submarines and eight aircraft squadrons was deeply involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, the Silver Eagles of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron
115 were leading the way for their fellow Marine and Navy squadrons.

The Silver Eagles were the first Fightertown squadron to head towards the gulf.  Marine
Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 soon joined them as they deployed to Kuwait in February.

The cruise on the Truman was the squadron's first carrier deployment in 20 years, and
they spent all of 2002 gearing up for it, according to Capt. Phillip Williams, pilot, VMFA-115.

"Prior to the cruise, the squadron regularly participated in the western pacific unit
deployment program, which was a six-month land-based deployment," Williams said.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Silver Eagles were one of Carrier Air Wing Three's
premier squadrons.

"It was a great team effort," said Sgt. Robert A. Reed, aviation ordnance technician, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31.  "But everyone wanted their own team to lead the way for the rest of the squadrons."

The Eagles led the battle group with more than 300 combat sorties and almost 1500
combat flight hours.  While '115's brother squadrons were deployed much closer to the action, getting to Iraq was only half the job for the Silver Eagles.

"The jets had to make the trip from the Mediterranean through Turkey to get to Iraq," Williams said.  "And the best part is that we finished OIF with a 100 percent sortie completion rate."

The Silver Eagles dropped more than 313,000 pounds of ordnance in support of special
operations forces in northern Iraq.  The squadron greatly contributed to the destruction of two Iraqi army units and the Anser al-Islam terrorist organization during the operation.

"It was twenty-four hour flight operations, something that not a lot of us are used to,"
Reed said.  "But it was always great to see our jets come back empty."

In late May, 241 Marines and Sailors of VMFA-115 returned to the Air Station at the conclusion of the six-month deployment   The squadron spent 150 days at sea during the cruise with 20 port days along the mediterranean coast and everyone was happy to be home safely.

"The greatest accomplish we had during OIF was that every Marine came home safely,"
said Maj. Breton L. Saunders, aircraft maintenance officer, VMFA-115.  "With combat
operations you just never know what could happen.  We're happy to be back and proud of our Marines and their accomplishments."

Since returning to the Air Station, several of the Silver Eagles have moved on to new
commands or returned to the units they were deployed from.

One Silver Eagles pilot, Capt. David A. Kalinske, is now an F/A-18 Hornet instructor at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.

"The squadron performed amazingly during OIF," Kalinske said. "The history behind the
squadron is very strong and no one who participated in OIF alongside the Silver Eagles will soon forget it."

The squadron, which recently celebrated its 60th birthday, has participated in nearly
every major conflict that has called upon Marine Corps aviation.  For now, the Silver Eagles are looking to refresh their training and prepare their jets for the next call of duty.

"The history of Marine Corps aviation has been highlighted with the outstanding
achievements of VMFA-115," said Lt. Col. Gregg W. Brinegar, commanding officer, VMFA-
115. "It has been a great run for our squadron and we are looking forward to much more of the same in the future."