Rusnok knighted CO of VMFA-121
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, also known as the Green Knights, welcomed a new commanding officer during a change of command ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, March 3, 2017.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. J.T. Bardo relinquished his duties as VMFA-121 commanding officer to U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Richard M. Rusnok Jr. after serving as the squadron commander for one and a half years.
“My time with this command has been the greatest privilege I’ve had in my Marine Corps career,” said Bardo. “It’s been an honor to serve with such an amazing group of Marines. The Marines within the unit are some of the best I’ve ever served with, from the pilots to the maintainers. Everyone knows their job and executes in the toughest of situations.”
In August 2015 Bardo assumed the position of VMFA-121 commanding officer and is departing to further his career at the National War College in Washington D.C.
“The National War College is a top-level school for lieutenant colonels,” said Bardo. “I will attend the college for a year, study the curriculum and wait for follow-on orders upon completion.”
During his time as commanding officer, VMFA-121 became the first operational F-35 squadron in the Marine Corps, participated in exercises such as Steel Knight and Red Flag, and conducted a permanent change of station to MCAS Iwakuni from MCAS Yuma, Arizona.
“Shortly after taking command, we became the first operational F-35 squadron,” said Bardo. “We were challenged with integrating the aircraft with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and do the things that our tactical air assets do such as the F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers. We conducted expeditionary operations for the first time in support of exercise Steel Knight 16. We have supported the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Courses, made numbers qualifications for pilots and maintainers, and conducted the first deployment of the F-35 when we came out here. All of which were new and interesting challenges.”
Bardo said because the F-35 is a new aircraft, there was no script or notes from anyone prior. The Marines were able to look at potential problems and attack those challenges.
“They did a magnificent job; there wasn’t a single thing they couldn’t handle,” said Bardo. “We came up with solutions and were able to accomplish the mission every single time. All I did was tell them where I wanted to go and they figured out how to do it. It was really impressive watching them work.”
Rusnok will be assuming his first position as commanding officer after serving as the F-35 Detachment Officer-in-Charge for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Rusnok said he has worked with VMFA-121 since they received the first F-35B in 2012, and they have done much to advance the F-35 program, benefiting not just the Marine Corps but all the other services and partner nations that fly the aircraft.
“I am excited for us to continue that tradition of innovation and excellence as the world's only forward-deployed fifth generation fighter squadron,” said Rusnok.
Rusnok expressed his thoughts about the Marines of VMFA-121 and what he hopes to accomplish throughout his time serving as their commanding officer.
“My first goal is to continue and build upon the success of the Green Knights,” said Rusnok. “Lt. Col. Bardo and I have known each other for a long time. He did an outstanding job as the commanding officer and handed me a unit that is ready. I am excited to be here in Iwakuni and work with both the other units in Marine Aircraft Group 12 and 1st Marine Air Wing as well as our Navy partners. I am truly honored to be the new commanding officer. I saw a squadron that is ready to introduce this capability into the MAGTF and the Pacific Command area of responsibility, and I know that we have the right team to make that happen.”