Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, also known as the Black Sheep, has become the last of the four squadrons assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to be converted from AV-8B Harriers to the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter II.

Maj. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, presided over the redesignation ceremony and said the switch to the F-35B represents a leap forward in the Marine Corps’ air dominance.

“Having previously served in VMA-214 and flown the AV-8B for many years, the Black Sheep and the Harrier hold a special place in my heart,” Gering said. “As 3rd MAW says a bittersweet farewell to the Harrier, we are excited to increase our number of F-35B squadrons with the re-designation of VMFA-214.”

As part of the ceremony, which was held in the squadron’s hangar, the Black Sheep also welcomed a new commander as Lt. Col. Keith W. Bucklew relinquished command of the squadron to Lt. Col. Christopher J. Kelly.

In transitioning from the AV-8B Harrier to the F-35B Lightning II, VMA-214 was also redesignated as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 214.

“The AV-8B will be missed in the skies of Yuma, but it is time to transition to the next generation of fighter attack aircraft,” said Bucklew.

VMA-214 was originally commissioned as Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 214 on July 1, 1942, at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

The squadron completed two combat tours under the previous call-sign “Swashbucklers” before reforming as the “Black Sheep” under the leadership of Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in August 1943, flying the F4U-1 Corsair.

Boyington’s memoirs from World War II inspired the 1970s television show “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” later syndicated as “Black Sheep Squadron” and dramatized the squadron’s exploits during the war.

The Marines in VMF-214 chose to name the squadron the Black Sheep to highlight the pilot’s varied level of experience. From seasoned veterans with multiple combat tours under their wings to pilots fresh from flight school, the Black Sheep built a legacy from years of arduous fighting in World War II.

As a result of their accomplishments, VMF-214 also became the first Marine fighter squadron awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action.

On July 9, 1957, the squadron was redesignated VMA-214 as the Black Sheep transitioned to flying fixed-wing attack aircraft. In Vietnam, the Marines of VMA-214 distinguished themselves as an attack squadron, flying the trustworthy A-4 Skyhawk from expeditionary airfields in Chu Lai.

The Black Sheep continued to fly the A-4 until 1989, when they transitioned to the AV-8B Harrier. Over the next 30 years, the Black Sheep participated in combat operations throughout the globe, including Operation Restore Hope, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Most recently, VMA-214 completed its final AV-8B deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, during which they participated in Operation Inherent Resolve, which was the U.S. military’s operation to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“The re-designation of VMA-214 to VMFA-214 is the end of a legacy for the Black Sheep and Marine Aircraft Group-13,” Bucklew said. “This symbolic event finalizes the sundown for Harriers on the West Coast and closes the chapter on 58 years of attack aircraft operations for the Black Sheep.

“Finishing this mission with a successful 11th Marine Expeditionary deployment is a testament to the viability and performance of the Harrier over the last 33 years and, more importantly, the talent of the Marines who managed them.”

Kelly said the F-35B strike fighter’s capabilities bring more lethality and flexibility to combatant commanders than any other aircraft ever flown by Marine Corps pilots.

“The STO/VL capability inherent in the F-35 B variant allows the Marine Corps to operate expeditiously and from remote locations, making the model uniquely qualified at supporting expeditionary advanced base operations,” Kelly said.

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