HAVELOCK — A March 8 ceremony held at the Cherry Point Marine Base in Havelock marked the retirement of the last Squadron of EA-6B Prowlers, the Death Jesters.
The Death Jesters, who have been in service for 44 years, flew their final combat mission on Feb. 28 and had been deployed last year in support of military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2) had been active since 1977 and Lt. Colonel Andrew Rundle was the last acting VMAQ-2 Commanding Officer.
Rundle’s profile lists awards which include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal-Strike/Flight (Numeral 21), Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2nd Award), Navy Achievement Medal (2nd Award), and the Army Achievement Medal. He has served with Prowler Squadrons since 2003 and the majority of his 3,200 flight hours have been in EA-6B Prowlers.
According to the base’s website, Cherry Point’s operations included nearly 14,000 retired and active duty Marines, their families and civilians who work among them. The website says the annual payroll for Cherry Point has been estimated at over $1.2 billion, and all related base finances have “more than $2 billion in annual economic impact to the state.”
On March 12 and 14, the Prowlers will take flight for the last time to their final destinations in Arizona and Washington, D.C. The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona will receive and keep some of the VMAQ aircraft while others will go on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Prowlers are being replaced by the EA-18 Growler, which is a Super Hornet, and the F-35 B Lightning II.
The Death Jesters were one of four squadrons based out of the Marine Corps Station at Cherry Point. The other squadrons, in order by the last year of service, are the Banshees (1992-2016), the Seahawks (1981-2017), and the Moondogs (1992-2018).
The Navy had 15 squadrons of Prowlers beginning in 1971 and ending in 2015. The original squadron called the “Vikings” trained crews on the aircraft for the Air Force, Marines and Navy.
The EA-6B Prowler is a Northrup Grumman aircraft which had its first flight in May of 1968 and saw its first use in real missions starting in July of 1971. The Prowler, designed in 1966, is a four-seat, twin-engine, mid-wing electronic warfare aircraft based on an A-6 Intruder airframe.
The Prowler’s primary use is the suppression of enemy air and ground defenses through the interruption of enemy electronic activity and communications. In addition to its electronic disruption capability, the Prowler also carries anti-radiation missiles (ARMs).
There were 170 Prowlers built between 1971 and 1991. There have been no Prowlers lost to enemies, however, 50 have been destroyed over time.
A typical Prowler squadron consists of 180 Marines, which includes 8 pilots, 20 Electronic Counter Measure Officers (ECMO) and the remained being Staff Non-Commissioned Officers or those ranking Sergeant and below.
During their use, Prowlers flew over 260,000 hours in 70 support combat operations such as Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel. The EA-6B has been instrumental in disrupting the communications of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The move for the retirement of the Prowler aircraft began almost a decade ago. A 2010 report by Major Robert A. Steele outlined a plan to phase out the Prowler in favor of a more modern counterpart and Marines were to be either re-tasked or retrained accordingly.