MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (June 13, 2012) — In
the middle of the night, flying higher than 10,000 feet above the
ground, Capt. Eric D. Albright, an AV-8B Harrier pilot, engaged
enemy targets in the Helmand River valley in Helmand province,
Afghanistan, Feb. 5.
Capt. Eric D. Albright, a Harrier pilot with Marine Attack
Squadron 223, in front of an AV-8B Harrier at the squadron's hangar
June 13, 2012 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. The
squadron recently returned from a six-month deployment to
Afghanistan where they provided overwatch and close-air support for
ground troops in Helmand province. "I love flying, and I am going to
continue flying the Harrier until the Marine Corps won't let me,"
said Albright. Photo by USMC Lance Cpl. Stephen Stewart
Looking back on that moment, he described that night as pitch black
and moonless, he was only able to see outside the cockpit through
night vision goggles.
“It was low light, and by low light I
mean no light,” said Albright, who flies with Marine Attack Squadron
223. “If I looked out of my aircraft through the canopy, all I could
see was black.”
Albright was providing routine overwatch,
scanning routes for insurgents placing improvised explosive devices.
Running low on fuel, he received a call over the radio.
Marine on the ground with 2nd Marine Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment,
called for Albright to fly to the target area and provide close air
support. “They had found IED emplacers and we had to coordinate a
plan of action,” said Albright, a 29-year-old, Ashville, Pa.,
After the call came in, he began to ask the
questions that every pilot asks himself – Where was the enemy
located? How close to friendly troops are they? Have they been
properly identified as an enemy force? Do we need to engage? Which
weapon do we use?
“We have to ask ourselves all these
questions because we can't afford to make mistakes,” Albright said.
“A lot goes into planning an attack and we have to think quickly.”
The initial plan, as described to him by the ground unit, was
for the Marines to use artillery fire to hit the insurgents. This
did not go as planned. The enemy ran from the target area to a
Due to the chance of causing unnecessary
damage to the surrounding area, the ground troops called off the
Albright left the area to get refueled and then
returned to the target area, circled overhead, and waited for his
chance to strike. Finally,
as he refueled for the second time, he got the call he was waiting
“I was about 20 miles away when another call came in,”
said Albright. The voice on the radio said the insurgents
had returned to the IED site. “I flew with my wingman toward
them, setting up my targeting pod.”
arrived on scene, he saw two artillery impacts on the
ground, the assault underway. The Marines on the ground
fired two shots, eliminating one of the targets, leaving the
other four fleeing the area.
Albright located the
targets hiding next to a shed.
“The plan was to have
my wingman mark the targets with his targeting pod while he
stayed in the overhead,” explained Albright. “I was going to
then descend and engage the enemy, shooting my wingman's
Albright realized that he couldn't see the
target and decided to go for the attack by himself.
“I set my targeting pod up and had to keep moving it as the
targets ran away,” said Albright. “I had to use only my NVGs
to see because it was pitch-black outside.”
began his dive and reached a speed of about 550 nautical
miles per hour, the ideal speed for a gun attack.
put his targeting pod where he thought the enemy was going
to be when he fired.
“I squeezed the trigger and
pulled out of the dive,” said Albright. “All I could think
about was ‘shoot and get out of there,' because at that
speed and only 1,000 feet above the ground when I pulled up,
I was cutting it close, only a couple more seconds and I
would have hit the deck.”
His estimation was dead on.
The insurgents were hit by the 25mm rounds from Albright's
GAU-12/U Equalizer, a five-barrel rotating machine gun
attached to the belly of the Harrier.
one of the insurgents and the ground troops captured the
This was Albright's first
deployment, a six-month tour in Afghanistan where he
completed 159 combat missions. Marines and their Afghan and
coalition partners relied on him to provide support and on
many occasions engage enemies.
“If I take our enemy
off the battlefield, then they can't take our Marines off
the battlefield,” said Albright. “The way I see it is it's
them or us that have to go, and I would rather it be them.”
By USMC Lance Cpl. Stephen Stewart
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