For the first time since Marine Corps combat operations in Iraq ended earlier this year, an F-18 Hornet squadron from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is headed to a war zone.
The Werewolves of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 were expected to depart Fightertown at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday for a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan. The squadron will replace the Red Devils of VMFA-232 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., at Kandahar Airfield in southwestern Afghanistan.
Though leaving their families in Beaufort will be hard, the Werewolves are ready to complete their mission, said Capt. Travis Barksdale, one of the unit's F-18 pilots.
"The squadron is focused and highly motivated to deploy and support Operation Enduring Freedom," Barksdale said in an e-mail. "We will miss this community and the support this community provides, and inevitably we will miss the luxuries of our home lives."
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As the squadron heads into battle, they do so with the backing of the entire base, said Lt. Col. John Pylant, the commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron.
"On Sunday, another squadron from this base is loaded into the breach of a cannon," Pylant told his Marines during a Corps birthday event this week. "You may hear and you may feel this squadron as they go downrange to separate un-American bad guys from this world. If you hear that, smile, raise your trigger finger in the air and pull it. Every one of you ... made that happen."
The Werewolves' seven-month tour of duty will be the first by combat deployment by a Beaufort F-18 squadron since Marines turned over control of the Al Anbar province -- Iraq's largest province and a former Al- Qaeda stronghold -- to the Army's 1st Armored Division in January. The move signaled an end to the Corps' mission in Iraq and the end of combat deployments from MCAS Beaufort to the war-torn Middle Eastern nation.
Only one unit from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort -- a 40-Marine detachment from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 -- has been sent to Afghanistan since President Barack Obama shifted the focus of the nation's war on terrorism to fighting Taliban forces there earlier this year.
The detachment returned to the air station in April.