Yuma, ARIZ. – The United States along with other countries around the world have been conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State for about six months. In those six months around 16,000 airstrikes have been conducted.
While the majority of the missions are successful, there’s always a chance something could go wrong. Most recently a Jordanian fighter pilot was burned alive by ISIS. The threat is real for fighter pilots each and every time they climb into their jets; and for some of them their mission often begins nearly eight thousand miles away in the desert southwest.
“We have harriers from both coasts currently deployed on combat missions,” Major Callison said.
Major Cory Callison is an Operations Manager for Harrier attack squadron 311. He says their mission is never ending.
“We are always preparing to deploy on short notice,” he said. “We take into consideration what is happening around the world and we are prepared to do what is necessary and what the nation asks us to do.”
MCAS Yuma is home of the harrier and marines from all across the country come here specifically for training.
Kevin Rosen is one of those pilots he’s here training fro North Carolina. Rosen says Yuma allows him and his squadron opportunities to grow as pilots.
“We’re averaging two [flights] a day six days a week,” Rosen said. “It could be bombings, to low level flights or any combination of the both.”
These pilots train for years and for hundreds of hours. Despite the preparation there’s no guarantee that one of our pilots will not fall into terrorists hands.
“That’s mainly what we’re training for,” Captain Alec Rackish said. “What to do if some of our systems degrade how were going to deal with that.”
Despite the threats of what could happen Captain Rackish says they’re trained for the missions at hand.
“You’re very focused on whats going on so the time to think about being nervous isn’t really there,” he said.
Squadron VMA 311 is currently preparing for an upcoming deployment. Where their mission will take them and what their mission will consist of is top secret. However a Yuma Harrier Squadron that just returned home conducted airstrikes against ISIS.
These jets have been used in countless wars dating back to 1969 and they’ve been in Yuma just about as long. However by 2025 the harrier is scheduled to be phased out and will be replaced by the f-35 which is the most advanced jet in all of the department of defense but what this means for harrier pilots is there will be fewer and fewer trained each and every year.