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VMAQ-2 Playboys/Panthers/Death Jesters


Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron-TWO (VMAQ-2);  Known by several names over its many years of faithful service, is the true “Daddy Rabbit” squadron for the Corps’ heroic VMAQ community, having performed in exemplary fashion in both war and peace for almost 70 years while also becoming one of the most significant Electronic Warfare organizations in U.S. military history.

VMAQ-2’s lineage dates from February, 1952 when, during the Korean War, the Marines activated Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron-2 (VMJ-2) at MCAS Cherry Point, NC with Grumman F7F-3P Tigercats and McDonnell F2H-2P Photo-Banshees

On 15 September 1952 a second specialist unit, Marine Composite Squadron-2 (VMC-2) was activated at Cherry Point with the mission of providing airborne early warning and night attack capability for the 2d Marine Air Wing. By the end of the year the squadron was flying Douglas AD-4N, AD-4W and AD-3W Skyraiders in these missions.

Both units continued to ply their trade over the pine forests of North Carolina until 1 December 1955 when the decision was made to combine them as Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron-TWO (VMCJ-2). At this point the unit had 23 aircraft assigned, including Grumman F9F-8P and F9F-6P photo-Cougars and Douglas AD-5N (night attack) and AD-5W (airborne early warning) Skyraiders.
While carrying out their primary roles the unit also experimented with airborne radar jamming equipment, placing systems in their AD-5Ns that allowed them to add this critical new area to their repertoire.

The effects that VMCJ-2 achieved in this new role was not lost on Marine leadership and the Corps soon developed a requirement for a dedicated electronic warfare aircraft to support the Rifleman on the ground. For their platform the Marines chose the Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight.  The F3D, known as “Willie the Whale” (or “Drut”, another word spelled backwards) was a twin-engine, two-seat night fighter that had proven itself as the most capable of its type in the darkened skies of Korea, where Marine VMF(N) units had scored against Communist MiG-15s while escorting Air Force B-29s. 

Modified as the F3D-2Q, they were true trend setters as the first jet-powered EW aircraft in the U.S. military, coming well before the US Air Force or Navy fielded comparable platforms. Along with its sister squadrons VMCJ-1 and VMCJ-3, VMCJ-2 also continued the photo-reconnaissance mission with hot new Vought F8U-1P Crusaders replacing its Cougars in the late 1950s.

The start of the Vietnam War found VMCJ-2 still working out of North Carolina, helping train aircrew for combat with western Pacific-based VMCJ-1.  New aircraft arrived through the period as McDonnell RF-4B Phantom IIs replaced the photo-Crusaders and Grumman EA-6A Intruders started supplementing the EF-10Bs.

The new “Electric Intruders” were modified from the established A-6A attack aircraft and featured a highly advanced set of receivers and jamming pods that made it the most capable EW platform of its day.  The aircraft’s capabilities proved to be in extreme demand in South East Asia, where sister squadron VMCJ-1 flew it throughout North Vietnam, providing critical electronic coverage for all three services.

By the mid-60s VMCJ-2 was well known as the “Playboys”, proudly using, with permission, the famed bunny head logo of the Huge Hefner publishing empire. This insignia, frequently along with the squadron’s simple and direct “Can Do” motto, were recognized world-wide.
As the Vietnam War wound on, VMCJ-2 continued supporting the Fleet Marine Forces Atlantic while also training EA-6A and RF-4B aircrew who would fly combat with VMCJ-1 in South East Asia. 

In January 1971 Detachment A left the hutch with four EA-6As, making a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea onboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) as part of Carrier Air Wing-Seventeen.  (CVW-17).  This was the first major shipboard deployment for the “Electric Intruder” with the Marines covering for the lack of Navy EW assets available for 6th Fleet. The detachment would cross-deck to the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) and join CVW-3, spending roughly ten months away from home in the process.

Only a few months later another detachment was spun up for what was supposed to be a peaceful trip to the Med in Saratoga but the 1972 “Easter Invasion” of South Vietnam by the North quickly led to the squadron sending them around the world to NAS Cubi Point, RP, where they joined VMCJ-1 as part of the nation’s response to the incursion. Along with heavy combat operations in and around North Vietnam, the det would lose one aircraft, to a complete hydraulic failure during their deployment, with both crew being rescued. 

The end of the war in South East Asia allowed the “Playboys” to return to normal operations out of Cherry Point with their Intruders and RF-4B Phantoms.  This continued up through 1975 when the Marines carried out a complete re-organization of its VMCJ units where the service separated its photo-recon and EW aircraft into distinct squadrons.

On 1 July 1975 VMCJ-2 was redesignated Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron-TWO (VMAQ-2) and took possession of all of the service’s EA-6As.  The RF-4Bs went to the new Marine Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron-THREE (VMFP-3, the former VMCJ-3) while VMCJ-1 in Japan was deactivated. 

As the Corps’ sole airborne electronic attack unit VMAQ-2 began rotational deployment of EA-6As to Japan under the Unit Deployment Program (UDP), which also included covering CVW-5 onboard the Japan-based USS Midway (CV-41).

In 1977 VMAQ-2 began transition to the Grumman EA-6B Prowler, the aircraft it would fly for the rest of its years.  The final EA-6As departed the unit in September 1978 with VMAQ-2 now covering three detachments, (X, Y and Z) with 12 aircraft initially assigned, a number that would soon rise to 16.  The detachments to Japan initially continued to work with the Midway as well, an assignment they held until relieved by VAQ-136 in 1980.

VMAQ-2’s routine continued for another twelve years with its dets cycling to Japan, where they supported the 12th Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) throughout the Western Pacific region while also keeping a close eye on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. (North Korea).
Although the squadron’s normal commitment to the Japan-based Midway and CVW-5 ended in 1980, the “Playboys” supplied several four-aircraft detachments to aircraft carriers during the decade, all to the Mediterranean under 6th Fleet control. This included the USS Nimitz (CVN-68, with CVW-8) in 1981-82, USS America (CV-66, with CVW-1) in 1982 and USS Saratoga (CV-60, CVW-17) in 1984. In early 1986 det Y responded to very short-fused tasking to deploy in America to replace a Navy unit that had been shifted to another ship.  Det Y subsequently performed magnificently with CVW-1 as a critical part of Operation El Dorado Canyon, the bombing of targets in Libya on 14-15 April, 1986.

VMAQ-2 continued sending dets to Japan through 1990 when events in the Middle East changed the squadron’s operational tempo forever.

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August, 1990 initially led to Operation Desert Shield, which involved the defense of Saudi Arabia and preparation for what followed.

VMAQ-2 already had det X set in Japan as part of a normal UDP deployment.  Back home, the squadron quickly moved everything else it had, including 12 EA-6Bs, to Shaikh Isa, Bahrain where they joined the quickly growing 3rd Marine Air Wing.

On 17 Jan 1991 the Liberation of Kuwait kicked off as part of what was now called Operation Desert Storm.  For its part, VMAQ-2 expertly provided the largest concentration of Marine airborne EW aircraft since 1972.  Through the roughly six week war the squadron flew over combat 500 sorties and 1600 hours while also firing 12 AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles.

While most of VMAQ-2 returned home triumphantly in March, 1991 the squadron retained det Y in Bahrain for several more weeks for contingency purposes. The prodigal det X in Japan came home as well in June after spending 11 months in the Far East. 

Only a year later the “Playboys” were involved in a massive reorganization of the Corps’ airborne Electronic Warfare community.  On 1 July 1992 two of the unit’s detachments were used as the cores for two new squadrons as VMAQ-1 (out of det X) and VMAQ-3 (det Z) were activated at Cherry Point.  On the same day Reserve VMAQ-4 was activated into the Regulars and moved from Whidbey Island to Cherry Point to join the other squadrons as part of Marine Aircraft Group-FOURTEEN (MAG-14).

Each squadron initially had four EA-6Bs assigned and soon grew to five each as they continued to cycle to Iwakuni as part of the UDP. VMAQ-2 would make its first trip back to Japan as a complete (non-detachment) squadron in November, 1992.

A more noticeable change was the unit’s adoption, by 1993, of a new nickname, drawing upon the National Football League’s Charlotte Panthers for a new image and title. The change was driven by the adoption of new sensibilities as part of the fallout from the 1991 Tailhook Convention, which made images like the long-held Playboy bunny now unacceptable in some quarters.  The Panther logo itself would only last a few years before being changed again for a macabre new image and title “Death Jesters”.

With four Marine VMAQ units the Corps’ airborne EW force pretty much settled down to a standard routine where one squadron would normally cover the UDP requirement in Japan while the others trained or covered additional operational requirements with either U.S. European (EUCOM) or Central Commands (CENTCOM).

After several pumps to Japan VMAQ-2 deployed to Aviano, Italy in February 1996 as part of Operation Decisive Endeavor, involving monitoring of the former Yugoslavia.  Two more trips to the region followed, which included flying combat operations under NATO and European Command over the former Yugoslavia as part of Operation Allied Force.

More trips to Iwakuni were conducted in 2001-2002 and in February 2003 the squadron flew combat out of Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Between 2004 and 2008 VMAQ-2 made three deployments to bases inside Iraq, still as part of OIF, providing EW support for U.S. troops still involved in the country.

In 2010 they made the first of two visits to Bagram, Afghanistan, where they provided vital “Force Protection” support as allied forces fought the Taliban as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The perilous nature of this work was emphasized on the night of 19 May when Taliban intruders tried to breach the perimeter wall at Bagram right where VMAQ-2 was located.

First discovered by a squadron member, the alarm was sounded and proving, yet again, that “All Marines are Riflemen” the squadron rapidly responded with men grabbing weapons and taking firing positions to repel several dozen enemy insurgents armed with automatic weapons, grenades and RPGs.

Army support eventually arrived in the form of security troops and Apache gunships. When it was over two Marines were seriously wounded but the attack was repulsed with 21 reported enemy dead.
In 2012 the squadron returned to Bagram to continue combat operations under OEF.  Two UDP deployments to Iwakuni followed, in 2013-14 and 2015. In 2016 VMAQ-2 traveled to Al Udied, Qatar as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), which included combat over both Iraq and Syria as well as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, over Afghanistan.

The squadron’s 2017-18 trip back to the Mid-East marks the final scheduled deployment for the Grumman EA-6B.  VMAQ-2 is currently scheduled for deactivation in 2019, summarily ending decades of Marine leadership and innovation in the airborne electronic attack field.  
Through it all, VMAQ-2 has remained one of the most memorable and respected names in Airborne Electronic Attack in United States military history.

VMC-2  Activated 16 Sep 1952    Cherry Pt             
VMJ-2   Activated 15 Sep 1952    Cherry Pt
VMCJ-2Merged from VMC-2 and VMJ-2 1 Dec 1955
VMAQ-2 Redesignation of VMCJ-2           1 July 1975
Re-organization of Marine VMAQ            1 July 1992
Deactivation (scheduled)              2019

VMAQ-2 EA-6B Deployments

Sep ‘78-Mar ’79   Det AIwakuni UDP
Mar-Sep ’79 Det XIwakuni UDP
Sep ’79-Mar ’80 Det YIwakuni   UDP
Mar to Sep 1980Det Z  IwakuniUDP
Sep ’80 to Apr ’81Det X  IwakuniUDP
Aug ’81 to Feb 82Det YCVN-68/CVW-8 MedUSS Nimitz
Mar to Sep ’82Det Z  IwakuniUDP
May to Jul 1982 Det YCV-66/CVW-1MedUSS America
Sep ’82 to Mar ’83Det X  Iwakuni  UDP
Mar to Sep 1983  Det YIwakuni UDP
Apr to Oct 1984 Det XCV-60/CVW-17  Med  USS Saratoga
Sep ’83 to Mar ’84  Det ZIwakuni UDP
May to Nov 1985  Det ZIwakuni UDP
Nov ’85 to May ’86Det X  IwakuniUDP
Mar to Sep 1986Det YCV-66/CVW-1 Med/El Dorado Cyn USS America
May ’86 to May ‘87 Det Z  IwakuniUDP
May to Nov 1987Det XIwakuni UDP
Nov ’87 to May ’88Det Y  IwakuniUDP
May to Nov 1988Det ZIwakuniUDP
Nov ’88 to May ’89Det X  IwakuniUDP
May to Nov 1989Det Y  IwakuniUDP
Nov ’89 to May ’90Det Z  IwakuniUDP
May ’90 to Jun ’91 Det XIwakuniUDP
Aug ’90 to Mar 91 ---- Shaikh IsaODS/ODS 12 aircraft
Mar ’91 to Apr ’91Det Y  Shaikh Isa  OSW
Nov ’91 to May ’92Det Z  Iwakuni  UDP
Jun 1992 Det XIwakuni  UDP
Nov ’92 to May ’93 IwakuniUDP
Nov ’94 to May ’95  IwakuniUDP
Feb to Aug 1996 Aviano ITODE
Sep ’97 to Feb ’98 Aviano IT
Feb to Jul 1999 Aviano ITOAF
Mar to Jun 2001 Iwakuni  UDP
Jan to Jun 2002  IwakuniUDP
Feb to May 2003 PSAB SAOIF
Jul ’04 to Jan ’05 Tallil IraqOIF
Jan to Jul 2006   Al Asad Iraq OIF
Jul ’07 to Feb ’08 Al Asad IraqOIF
Apr to Nov 2010 Bagram AF OEF
Mar to Oct 2012Bagram AFOEF
Jul ’13 to Feb ’14 Iwakuni  UDP
Jan ’15 to Jul ’15 IwakuniUDP
Oct ’16 to Apr ‘17 IncirlikOIR
Oct ’17 to IncirlikOIR

OAF: Operation Allied Force        (former Yugoslavia)
ODE: Operation Decisive Endeavor          (former Yugoslavia)
ODS/ODS: Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm (Kuwait/Iraq)
OEF: Operation Enduring Freedom          (Iraq)
OIF: Operation Iraqi Freedom    (Iraq)
OIR: Operation Inherent Resolve              (Iraq)
UDP: Unit Deployment Program               (Japan)

Commanding Officers
LtCol R.N. Moore Jr.          1 Jul 75 – 14 Jun 76
LtCol J.P. Faulkner             15 Jun 76 – 14 Nov 76
LtCol T.J. Fallon                   15 Nov 76 – 30 May 79
LtCol M.C. Brush                 31 May 79 – 7 May 80
LtCol C.B. Salmon               8 May 80 – 25 Aug 81
LtCol J.D. Weber                 20 Aug 81 – 15 Sep 83
LtCol J.M. Suhy                   16 Sep 83 – 12 Jul 85
LtCol F.A Yahner                 13 Jul 85 – 11 Jul 86
LtCol A.W. Johnson            12 Jul 86 – 3 Jun 88
LtCol J.D. Buchanan           4 Jun 88 – 2 Apr 90
LtCol R.W. Bates                 3 Apr 90 – 17 Jul 91
LtCol G.E. Monarch III       18 Jul 91 – 30 Jun 93
LtCol R.B. Johnson             1 Jul 93 – 22 May 95
LtCol E.B. Mayer                 23 May 95 – 21 Nov 96
LtCol R.A. Muegge             22 Nov 96 – 5 Aug 98
LtCol G. Slyman                  6 Aug 98 – 25 Oct 98
LtCol S.M. Keim                  26 Oct 98 – 16 Nov 00
LtCol G.A. Yeager               17 Nov 00 – 18 Jul 02
LtCol J.M. Docherty           19 Jul 02 – 22 Jan 04
LtCol M.J. Bosse                  23 Jan 04 – 8 Jun 05
LtCol M.W. George            9 Jun 05 – 14 Nov 06
LtCol R.T. Bew                     15 Nov 06 – 20 Jun 08
LtCol K.G. Dobson              20 Jun 08 – 19 Nov 09
LtCol T.M. Caruso               20 Nov 09 – 11 Aug 11
LtCol A.L. Musoff                12 Aug 11 – 15 Jan 13
LtCol R.M. Kudelko Jr.       16 Jan 13 – 17 Jul 14
LtCol C.E. Dudik                  18 Jul 14 – 14 Jan 16
LtCol J.W. Beaven              14 Jan 16 – 22 Jan 17
LtCol A. Rundle                   23 Jan 17 - Present

RJM 3/2018