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The Marine Attack Squadron 211 "Avengers" trace their history to defending Wake Island with only five planes against the Japanese in a battle immediately following Pearl Harbor. In September 2012, the Avengers came under attack on their flightline aboard Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. With the aid of other squadrons on the flightline, the Avengers held their ground and helped repel the attack.

Photo by Sgt. Lisa Tourtelot

Wake avenger, Bastion defender: Marine shows why Harrier squadron stands out

24 Jun 2013 | Sgt. Lisa Tourtelot 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

“I love talking about this sort of thing,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Colburn about how to cultivate great leadership. “I would love to go around and talk about this and train Marines all the time if I could.”

The quality assurance representative with Marine Attack Squadron 211 lamented that he had been turned down for recruiting duty - too many visible tattoos - and combat instructing at the School of Infantry - not an infantry Marine. Disappointed but undeterred, Colburn is determined to find another way to guide the next generation of Marine leaders.

Colburn, a Storrs, Conn., native, is in the right place: the VMA-211 “Avengers” recently won the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Attack Squadron of the Year award, an honor Colburn believes is due to the squadron’s family-like atmosphere and engaged leadership.

The Avengers’ superior bond as a squadron shined when they came under attack September 2012 on the flight line aboard Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

“It’s rare that a Marine squadron gets attacked,” explained Colburn aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., June 17. “The more I think about it, the crazier it is to me. The last time the Marines had this kind of training was [Marine Combat Training], but they did what they were supposed to do.”

At the time, Marines carried a limited supply of ammunition to and from the flight line and did not often keep their protective flak jackets and Kevlar helmets on hand. Gear was sparse.

“The Marines outside called for ammo,” Colburn said. “There was no hesitation. [The Marines inside] grabbed ammo - their own magazines out of their weapons and they threw it to me. I got like eight magazines, [thrown] over the wall, sliding across the floor.”

Colburn chuckled and smiled, explaining that their unselfishness and inspiring leadership made the day a success for the Marines.

“If the unit wasn’t so tight and so trusting and tightly knit that it would have worked out that way,” he explained.

As Maj. Gen. Steven Busby, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, makes the rounds across 3rd MAW explaining his committed and engaged leadership initiative, Colburn believes it will have little effect on the Avengers.

“I don’t know how it would affect us because we’ve been doing it,” Colburn asserted. “We really engage. This squadron is really strong.”

Although the Avengers may have found the secret to engaged leadership, Colburn believes that Marine leaders around the Corps can all still learn something new.

“It only takes one person to make change. That one person has to be willing to get scrutinized, made fun of and pressured, but as long as you can elaborate and explain on a personal level, then people will understand,” said Colburn.

Leadership is a trained skill honed by hands-on, in-your-face instruction, Colburn insisted. Once those skills are in place, Colburn believes that the Marine Corps will no longer be swimming against the current of negative leadership.

“It’s not an immediate fix, it’s a long term fix,” said Colburn. “You have to plant the seeds in every squadron ... and then they can blossom.”

Although Colburn may not be sharing his leadership philosophies with potential recruits or brand-new Marines, every day he takes the extra effort to talk with junior Marines throughout his squadron.

“One of the things I love about [committed and engaged leadership] is pay it forward,” explained Colburn. “That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. It is one thing to do something for the person who helped you, but it’s even greater to do it for someone else.”

This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the committed and engaged leaders of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.