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24th MEU gets eyes in Afghan skies

Harrier jets arrive at base

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of reports from Afghanistan by The Daily News writer Jennifer Hlad, who is embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit there.

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The dust, fine as powdered sugar, cast a fog in the air as Harriers cut through the sky. As the jets taxied to their spots on a newly built mat, each plane kicked up a small storm of sand in its wake.

http://www.jdnews.com/news/24th_55754___article.html/afghan_eyes.html

March 30, 2008 - 12:22AM
JENNIFER HLAD
THE DAILY NEWS

Ten days after leaving Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina, the first wave of jets from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Harrier detachment landed on base in southern Afghanistan. The AV-8Bs give the Marines on the ground an eye in the sky, said Maj. Stephan Bradicich, a Harrier pilot.

The jets can perform reconnaissance or determine routes, Bradicich said, as well as "keep an eye on the fight" and send information directly from the cockpit to the ground.

"It extends the range of vision for the ground commander," Bradicich said.

The jets also provide heavy firepower, he said, "the big bombs."

And laser-guided and Global Positioning System technology means "we can put bombs on target the first time around," said Sgt. Robert McElmurry, an aviation ordnance Marine with the Harrier detachment.

That can be very important when ground troops call in for air support, he said.

"When the ground guys are out doing their thing, if they run into trouble, they know we're just a phone call away," he said.

McElmurry has been in the Kandahar province less than a week, but he spent a year in Bagram, Afghanistan, on a previous deployment. During that tour, he said a group of American soldiers came and thanked the air unit for air support.

"They said without us, they'd be dead," McElmurry said. "It was really cool and kind of humbling to hear it actually from their mouths."

Harrier pilots Capt. Christopher McLin and Capt. Arthur Bruggeman also arrived Saturday. This is the first deployment for both, and they said they are not exactly sure what to expect. But since the MEU is the first large Marine unit in this area for a few years, Bruggeman said he thinks there will be plenty to do.

"We're definitely looking to do some good work, and looking to be busy," he said.

Contact Jennifer Hlad at jhlad@freedomenc.com or visit her blog at http://fromafghanistan.encblogs.com.