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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  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 (“Det X-tended”) 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 marked the final scheduled deployment for the Grumman EA-6B.  VMAQ-2 returned home triumphantly in October 2018 and began the unhappy task of deactivation, which occurred on 9 March, 2019. VMAQ-2 was both the final Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron as well as the last operator of the mighty Prowler. Members of the squadron made the final flight of the EA-6B when they delivered CY02, 162230, to the Smithsonian Institution’s Udvar-Hazy Center located at Dulles International Airport on 14 March.

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-2 Merged 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
Deactivated                                                        9 Mar 2019

VMAQ-2 EA-6B Deployments
Dec ‘78-May ’79                Det X     Iwakuni                 UDP                                       USS Midway
May-Feb ‘80                       Det Y     Iwakuni                 UDP                                       USS Midway
Apr to Oct 1980                 Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP      
Oct ’80 to Apr ’81             Det X     Iwakuni                UDP
Aug ’81 to Feb 82             Det Y     CVN-68/CVW-8 Med                                      USS Nimitz         
Feb to Aug ’82                   Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
Aug ’82 to Feb ’83            Det X     Iwakuni                UDP
Feb to Aug 1983                Det Y     Iwakuni                UDP                                       USS Midway
Mar to Oct 1984                Det X     CV-60/CVW-17  Med                                      USS Saratoga
Aug ’83 to Feb ’84            Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
Oct ’84 to May ’85           Det Y     WestPac              UDP
May to Nov 1985              Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
Nov ’85 to May ’86          Det X     Iwakuni                UDP
Mar to Sep 1986                Det Y     CV-66/CVW-1    Med/El Dorado Cyn         USS America
Nov ’86 to May ‘87          Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
May to Nov 1987              Det X     Iwakuni                UDP
Nov ’87 to May ’88          Det Y     Iwakuni                UDP
May to Nov 1988              Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
Nov ’88 to May ’89          Det X     Iwakuni                UDP
May to Nov 1989              Det Y     Iwakuni                UDP
Nov ’89 to May ’90          Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
May ’90 to Jun ’91           Det X     Iwakuni                UDP
Aug ’90 to Mar 91             ----         Shaikh Isa            ODS/ODS                             12 aircraft
Mar ’91 to Apr ’91            Det Y     Shaikh Isa            OSW
Nov ’91 to May ’92          Det Z     Iwakuni                UDP
Jun 1992                               Det X     Iwakuni                UDP                                       Became VMAQ-1
Nov ’92 to Jun ’93                            Iwakuni                UDP      
Nov ’94 to May ’95                          Iwakuni                UDP      
Mar to Sep 1996                                Aviano IT              ODE      
Jul ’97 to Feb ’98                               Aviano IT              ODG                     
Feb to Jul 1999                                   Aviano IT              OAF
Mar to Jun 2001                                Iwakuni                UDP
Dec ‘01 to Jun ‘02                             Iwakuni                UDP
Feb to Apr 2003                                 PSAB SA               OEF/OIF
Jul ’04 to Jan ’05                               Tallil Iraq              OIF
Jan to Jul 2006                                   Al Asad Iraq        OIF
Aug ’07 to Feb ’08                            Al Asad Iraq        OIF
Oct ’08 to May ’09                           Al Asad Iraq        OIF
May to Nov 2010                              Bagram AF          OEF
Mar to Aug 2012                               Bagram AF          OEF
Aug to Oct 2012                                Al Udeid QU       OEF
Aug ’13 to Feb ’14                            Iwakuni                UDP
Jan ’15 to Aug ’15                             Iwakuni                UDP      
Sep ’16 to Apr ‘17                             Incirlik                   OIR
Mar to Nov ‘18                                  Al Udeid QU       OIR, OFS

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

 Commanding Officers     

LtCol Royal Moore

Jul 1975

LtCol James Faulkner

Jun 1976

LtCol Timothy Fallon

Nov 1976

LtCol Martin Brush

May 1979

LtCol Chris Salmon

May 1980

LtCol J.D. Weber

Aug 1981

LtCol John Suhy

Sep 1983

LtCol Frank Yahner

Jul 1985

LtCol Allan Johnson

Jul 1986

LtCol Jeffrey Buchanan

Jun 1988

LtCol Richard Bates

Apr 1990

LtCol George Monarch

Jul 1991

LtCol Ricky B Johnson

Jul 1993

LtCol Ed Mayer

May 1995

LtCol Richard Muegge

Nov 1996

LtCol Gary Slyman

Aug 1998

LtCol Steven Keim

Oct 1998

LtCol Guy Yeager

Nov 2000

LtCol James Doherty

Jul 2002

LtCol Mike Bosse

Jan 2004

LtCol Michael George

Jun 2005

LtCol Richard Bew

Nov 2006

LtCol Kelly Dobson

Jun 2008

LtCol Todd Caruso

Nov 2009

LtCol Adam Musoff

Aug 2011

LtCol Robert Kudelko Jr

Jan 2013

LtCol Charles Dudik

Jul 2014

LtCol Jeremy Beaven

Jan 2016

LtCol Andrew Rundle

Jun 2017


RJM 3/2019