MCAS Beaufort --
Marines begin to form into platoons solemnly as guests take their seats. Over the low roar of jets, guests can hear the pre-parade serenade provided by the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Band. Once the seats are filled and the band clears the parade deck quietness falls onto the flight line as a single Marine walks out to the center. After the Marine gives the order “Staff, fall in,” and four Marines from each sides of the seating area make their way to meet him, the final ceremony for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort begins.
The ceremony started like most traditional Marine Corps ceremonies. The band played “Sound Off” and the platoon leaders reported to the commander of troops. However, instead of a change of command or a post and relief, Lt. Col. Michael P. Brennan relinquished command of VMFA-122.
“This Ceremony is a bit unique,” said Lt. Col. Michael P. Brennan, the commanding officer of VMFA-122. “This isn’t a change of command, but a relinquishment of command. I will relinquish command of the squadron and we will case the squadron colors so they may be transported to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. It is there the colors will be un-cased and the squadron will stand up as an F-35B Lightning II squadron with Marine Aircraft Group 13.”
The “Fling Leathernecks” were commissioned on March 1, 1942 as a Grumman F4F Wildcat squadron with name the “Candy Stripers”. Throughout 1942-1943, the squadron conducted combat operations until changing to a F4U-1Corsair squadron in 1943. In 1944, the “Candy Stripers” embarked on its second combat deployment aboard the U.S.S. Hollandia with the F4G-1A aircraft. VMF-122 then reported to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC where they were deactivated for a year. The squadron reactivated as a demonstration team with the FH-1 Phantom for two years before being re-assigned to the U.S.S Oriskany. While aboard the Oriskany, VMF-122 became the first squadron to be both day and night qualified for carrier operations. In 1952, the squadron transitioned to the F9F-4 Panther and then the F9F-5 while deployed aboard the U.S.S. Coral. VMF-122 relocated to MCAS Beaufort in 1957 and became the “Crusaders” because of their new aircraft the F8U-1 Crusader. In 1986, the “Crusaders” began their era as an F/A-18 Hornet squadron with the F/A-18A Hornet. In 2001, the squadron increased their capabilities with the F/A-18C Hornet. In 2008, the Crusaders were re-designated to the Werewolves for nine years until they were designated “The Flying Leathernecks”. After 31 years, countless combat operations, Unit Deployment Programs, and West Pacific deployments, Headquarters Marine Corps re-designated “The Flying Leathernecks” as an F-35B squadron effective Oct. 1.
Since the message from HQMC, Brennan and his squadron have worked tirelessly to prepare the squadron for its standing-down and assist the other squadrons of Marine Aircraft Group 31in preparing for their deployments.
“For the last year we have been focused on fixing aircraft for our fellow squadrons," Said LtCol Brennan. "We have found some success in that effort. I have over the last year watched our squadron shrink to our current size. What we have left is a very small family of people pulling more than their weight and I couldn't be more proud of what they have done. Their efforts ensured that MAG-31 was successful, and to me that is the definition of Institutional Team work."
After relinquishing his command, Brennan was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his accomplishments as the commanding officer of VMFA-122.
“The way I would describe VMFA-122 in the last year would be readiness, readiness, and excellence,” said Col. Frank Latt, the commanding officer of MAG-31. You have not only carried on the legacy of your squadron but have elevated it. There is no leader that takes care of his Marines more than Brennan. MAG-31 has reached readiness levels not seen in five years because of Brennan and his Marines. When Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 needed assistance, 20 Marines from “The Flying Leathernecks” volunteered to deploy and help the “Bengals”. On behalf of MAG-31, I want to say thank you to “The Flying Leathernecks” for your dedicated service.
After remarks from Latt and Brennan, the Squadron proceeded with the Pass in review. As the platoons reformed, a somber quietness took over the guests as Brennan and Master Gunnery Sgt. Charles Wright stood up and made their way to the squadron colors. As the two Marines fold the colors, an F/A-18C Hornet and an F-35B fly overhead representing the ending of one era and the beginning of another. The Marines slowly cover the colors in the wistful silence as they officially say goodbye to their squadron. Once the colors are cased, the two Marines make their way back. Wright returns to his seat while Brennan stands at attention in front of the commander of troops. After the commander of troops salutes Brennan one last time, he turns around to dismiss his staff. Behind them, the platoon leaders dismiss their platoons. The Marines acknowledge the order and respond with “Dismissed aye aye sir,” and they take one-step back and disperse for the last time as Marines with VMFA-122.