In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marine Corps' ground campaign up the Tigris and Euphrates was notable for speed and aggressiveness unparalleled in military history. Little has been written, however, of the air support that guaranteed the drive's success. Paving the way for the rush to Baghdad was "the hammer from above"-in the form of attack helicopters, jet fighters, transport, and other support aircraft. Now a former Marine fighter pilot shares the gripping never-before-told stories of the Marines who helped bring to an end the regime of Saddam Hussein.
As Jay Stout reveals, the air war had actually been in the planning stages ever since the victory of Operation Desert Storm, twelve years earlier. But when Operation Iraqi Freedom officially commenced on March 20, 2003, the Marine Corps entered the fight with an aviation arm at its smallest since before World War II. Still, with the motto "Speed Equals Success," the separate air and ground units acted as a team to get the job done.
Drawing on exclusive interviews with the men and women who flew the harrowing missions, Hammer from Above reveals how pilots and their machines were tested to the limits of endurance, venturing well beyond what they were trained and designed to do. Stout takes us into the cockpits, revealing what it was like to fly these intense combat operations for up to eighteen hours at a time and to face incredible volumes of fire that literally shredded aircraft in midair during battles like that over An Nasiriyah .
With its dynamic descriptions of perilous flights and bombing runs, Hammer from Above is a worthy tribute to the men and women who flew and maintained the aircraft that so inspired their brothers in arms and terrified the enemy.
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December 25, 2006
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Excerpt from Hammer from Above by Jay A. Stout
Marine Aviation Primer The Marine Corps sent many brave men into the skies over Iraq during the spring campaign of 2003. This book will describe their actions and perhaps bring more awareness to a public that for the most part is barely aware the air arm of the Marine Corps even exists. That this is so is remarkable considering the many legends who have flown in our country’s service while wearing a Marine uniform. Ted Williams twice interrupted one of the most fantastic careers in baseball to fly and fight in both World War II and Korea. Likewise, Marine Corps pilot John Glenn flew in the same two wars and went on to become the first American to orbit the planet. Ed McMahon started adulthood as a pilot with the Marines during World War II and years later sat beside Tonight Show host Johnny Carson and entertained millions. Joe Foss, the great sportsman, governor of South Dakota, and chairman of the NRA, won the Medal of Honor while flying in World War II as a Marine Corps fighter pilot. And Gregory “Pappy” Boyington fought and drank himself into one of aviation’s most colorful and enduring legends. Regardless of public awareness, Marine Corps aviation has been producing these types of men since 1912. It was in May of that year that First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham was directed to report to the Naval Aviation Camp in Annapolis, Maryland. A few months later, on August 20, he soloed after two hours and forty minutes of flight time and became Marine Aviator Number 1. Aviation in the Marine Corps grew slowly until the United States entered World War I in April 1917. At the time the entire aviation complement of the Marine Corps numbered only fifty-two officers and enlisted men. Just more than a year later, 758 men staffing three squadrons arrived in France on July 30, 1918. They came without their own flying machines; it wasn’t until the end of September that they received their first aircraft. Still, during the short time before the war ended in mid-November, the Marines managed to make their mark by shooting down several German aircraft. Indeed, their ferocity was such that Second Lieutenant Ralph Talbot and Gunnery Sergeant Robert Guy Robinson each earned the Medal of Honor while flying together for actions that are described in part by the following excerpt from Robinson’s citation: . . . on October 14th, 1918, while on a raid over Pittman, Belgium, his plane and one other became detached from the formation on account of motor trouble, and were attacked by twelve enemy scouts. In the fight which ensued he behaved with conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity. After shooting down one of the enemy planes he was struck by a bullet which carried away much of his elbow and his gun jammed at the same time. He cleared the jam with one hand while his pilot maneuvered for position. With the gun cleared, he returned to the fight though his left arm was useless, and fought off the enemy scouts until he collapsed after receiving two more bullet wounds, one in the stomach and one in the thigh. Robinson survived despite suffering multiple bullet wounds and having his arm very nearly shot off. Talbot received his medal posthumously; he was killed only a few days later in a plane crash. Immediately following the war Marine aviation underwent a period of massive reductions, as did the air branches of all the services. By 1921 the Corps carried only forty-three pilots on its rolls. Despite the huge cutbacks that most of the world’s militaries underwent, the interwar years were a time of rapid technological development in aeronautics that saw a gradual buildup of capabilities within the Corps’s air arm. During this time the Marine Corps was the only U.S. service to put its fliers into combat. Flying and fighting throu