MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- After participating in a two-month exercise and flying more than 500 sorties, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Sunday.
The exercise brought together all of Carrier Air Wing 3, which consists of nine squadrons for an intense period of training designed to integrate the many different units aboard the USS Harry S. Truman into a unified fighting force, according to Maj. Michael R. Coletta, training officer, VMFA-115.
“The squadron learned a lot out here,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Covington, commanding officer, VMFA-115. “I couldn’t be more happy with the way the squadron has performed under these pretty tough conditions.”
In order to operate safely on the Truman, all the pilots of ‘115 became carrier qualified within the first three days of the deployment, according to Coletta. Carrier qualifications involve flying off and landing aboard the Truman during both day and night operations, to familiarize the pilots with the process.
Once carrier qualified, several of the pilots underwent specific individual qualifications. Capt. “Timmy” Taurin, pilot, VMFA-115, received his division lead qualification, which allows him to lead up to four jets into combat, according to Coletta.
Covington requalified as CVW-3’s mission commander. Qualification as mission commander allows Convington to plan and execute 30-jet strikes, according to Coletta.
Three of ’115’s newest pilots began workups to receive their section leader qualifications. The airborne equivalent of a fire team leader, a section leader is in charge of two aircraft during combat operations, according to Coletta.
Halfway through June, the Silver Eagles were reunited with Maj. Christopher T. Severson, pilot, VMFA-115. Severson had just completed training at the Navy’s top flight school, Navy Strike Fighter Weapons School, also known as Top Gun. Severson received training in every aspect of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. The training certified Severson as a strike fighter tactics instructor, according to Coletta.
Midway through their training, the Truman made a week-long port call at Naples, Italy. While in Itlay, the Marines and Sailors aboard the Truman toured Rome, Naples, Pompeii and many other Italian cities.
During their deployment Capt. Franklin R. Hooks, pilot, VMFA-115, was lost at sea. Despite losing one of their fellow Marines, the Silver Eagles flew on to perform without a hitch during the completion of their mission.
“Losing Capt. Hooks was very tough,” Covington said. “The loss of the aircraft was nothing compared to the loss of a pilot. The squadron recovered very well to move on passed that.”
All the hard work and dedication of the Marines and Sailors aboard the Truman helped to strengthen their ability to work together, according to Coletta. The training culminated in the carrier being put on surgeable status.
“In case of a major international incident, surgeable status means that we can fly back on ship and go do whatever needs to be done,” Covington said.
Although their integration with the Truman and CVW-3 is complete, the Silver Eagles will not be around Beaufort for long, according to Covington. In four weeks, ‘115 will be heading out to an Air Wing Training Facility in Fallon, Nev., where they will receive realistic training against a difficult enemy.
“Training at Fallon allows us to employ all of our tactics against a very difficult adversary, so that we’re ready for anything,” Covington said. “It also allows us to take the data from that exercise and play back the entire event in order to evaluate our performance.”
After training at Fallon, VMFA-115 will be back in Beaufort for a short time before heading back to the Truman in October, according to Covington. Once back on ship, they will head out on a six-month deployment overseas, where they will continue to sharpen their skills with realistic training operations.
“We did a great job out here,” Covington said. “ The squadron performed very well, the aircraft performed very well, now we just have to keep up the good work.”