AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Marine Corps Aviation Association Robert Guy Robinson award recognizes the most outstanding of contributions to Marine aviation, whether the contribution is made in combat, research and development, weapons employment or to overall Marine aviation.
Recently, the association bestowed the award to Capt. Jacob L. Purdon, recognizing him as the top Marine naval flight officer amongst the ranks of Marine jet backseaters.
“I’m extremely honored to be recognized for the award,” said Purdon, an Overland Park, Kan., native. “Every squadron out there has guys that are just as qualified … or more. I was in the right place at the right time and had a great write-up.”
The right place and time for Purdon is in Al Asad, Iraq, with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), where the weapons systems officer works in the Quality Assurance Division alongside the squadrons enlisted maintainers, ensuring the F/A-18D Hornets get airborne.
“The importance of the Marines working on the line, keeping our jets up and combat ready cannot be overstated,” said Purdon. “Without their hard work, we would not be able to execute any of our missions and the (ground troops) would go unsupported. The maintenance department is the backbone of the squadron. Mission success or failure rests on their backs.”
While he is not a ground-pounding, bullet-slinging infantry officer, Purdon’s intention has always been to serve in a combat arms military occupational specialty. He made sure he got that with an aviation contract, while at the United States Naval Academy.
“Because of the quality-spread system in place at The Basic School, you’re never sure what MOS you will get assigned upon graduation,” said Purdon, a 1999 USNA graduate. “At the time I was up for service assignment at USNA, there were several stories going around about guys getting their bottom MOS choice. Right or wrong, the only way I thought I could ensure myself a combat arms MOS was with an aviation contract. I never really considered aviation as an option while I was at USNA because of poor eye sight, until I learned about the (naval flight officer) pipeline. Becoming a part of the F/A-18D community was my goal from the beginning, because of the many different missions we execute in direct support of the grunts.”
In Iraq, the Bats of VMFA(AW)-242 spend hours high in the sky, above convoys or patrols of Marines, an ever-watching big brother ready to deliver the hammer blow to insurgents the moment the ground forces ask for it. As a weapon systems officer, Purdon was recognized by the MCAA for his leadership and technical skill for the creation of the squadron’s efficient and combat ready mission planning procedures, changing the way the Bats and other fighter attack squadrons do business in Iraq.
“The F/A-18 is designed to be a single-seat strike fighter and pilots can accomplish most missions without a (weapon systems officer),” said Purdon. “With a WSO, however, there is a dedicated aircrew member focused on target acquisition and integration with the supported ground element. (Weapon system officers) are able to carry and use all of the grid reference graphics used by the ground elements, while the pilots can concentrate on airspace coordination and attack geometry.
"The two-seat hornet has demonstrated the fastest time to kill of any other fixed-wing platform," added Purdon. "The two-seat community has the additional mission of forward air-controller (airborne). When a ground element does not have a qualified joint tactical air-controller, the F/A-18D can fill that gap. In my opinion, it takes the two-seat hornet to effectively execute a FAC-A mission.”
While his profession is complex and requires an astute, sharp mind able to coordinate and slip from one task to another while in combat, the latest Robinson award winner holds to a simple outlook as a combat aviator.
“The precise and timely employment of aviation ordnance in support of the grunts is why we are all here,” said Purdon. “It is our honor and privilege to vaporize anyone who even thinks about shooting at Marines.”