MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC. -- Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and the United States Navy said goodbye to a squadron which has faithfully served for 38 years, during a deactivation ceremony held aboard Fightertown, Sept. 30.
The ceremony served as a tribute to the squadron’s near-four decade legacy, and included remarks from the current and a former commanding officer and the Commander of Strike Fighter Wing U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
“I almost cried when they retired the squadron colors,” said retired Navy Captain Eugene Clemens, the third commanding officer of VFA-82. “There are a lot of relationships and a lot of friends here.”
The deactivation of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 82 is part of a tactical aircraft integration plan, which calls for a reduction and realignment of assets throughout the Navy and the Marine Corps to maximize efficiency.
The Marauders received the order to deactivate in December, according to Navy Lt. Perry Solomon, a pilot with VFA-82.
“We were on a Western Pacific deployment aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when we got the message,” Solomon said.
TacAir Integration calls for Navy and Marine Corps Hornet squadrons to share missions. Marine Corps F/A-18C squadrons will deploy on carriers with Naval Air Wings and Navy squadrons will also begin to participate in the Marine Corps Unit Deployment Program, according to Solomon. The integration plan will enhance core combat capabilities and result in a more potent, cohesive, and affordable fighting force.
“The Navy squadrons will be going to Japan and other places like the Marine Corps squadrons,” Solomon said. “Last year VFA-97 was the first squadron on a UDP.”
After receiving the message, the Marauders began to take measured steps to progressively deactivate, according to Powell.
“It’s not an overnight process to deactivate a squadron,” Powell said. “The sailors have been working hard for months.”
Thanks to the phased planning, the majority of the sailors in the squadron will rotate on their normal schedule, according to Solomon.
“A very few are just getting reassigned to different squadrons,” Solomon said. “A year and a half ago we stopped getting new people. We have slowly gotten smaller over the last year.”
Besides personnel, the Marauders implemented a plan to distribute their jets, according to Solomon.
“When we returned from our WestPac we had 10 newer models of F/A-18C Hornets, we took those and traded them with VFA-86,” Solomon said. “So they had newer F/A-18s and we got the ones which were a few years older.”
For the last six months the Marauders have been operating on five jets, according to Solomon.
“When we traded planes with VFA-86 we only took back five,” Solomon said. “Within the last month or two we have been in the process of transferring the rest of those planes to other squadrons.”
Although the Marauders received the message to deactivate late last year, they continued to operate at a normal tempo, according to Solomon.
“We actually went on a no-notice deployment to fill a gap,” Solomon said. “We were in such a high state of readiness that they picked us to go.”
A lot of squadrons that get deactivated have a full year’s notice to slowly draw down and reduce their operational tempo, according to Solomon.
“Instead we went on a five-month WestPac, we had to ramp up and get ready for another deployment,” Solomon said. “If anything there was an increase in our tempo.”
The Marauders, who were established on May 1, 1967 at Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Fla., have served in many missions in support of the United States.
They made their first major deployment aboard USS America, which made a cruise to Vietnam. The Marauders also participated in support of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch in Iraq; Operations Deny Flight and Sharp Guard in Bosnia; and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.
The most recent operations conducted by the Marauders were Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Operation Unified Assistance for the tsunami victims.
“Its hard to put to rest 38 years of naval history,” Cmdr. Christopher Powell, the VFA-82 commanding officer, said.
Although most of the squadron feels solemn about disestablishing, the Marauders understand the needs of the Navy come first, according to Powell.
“It’s was a tough day for me personally, I love this squadron,” Powell said, who also served as a fighter pilot with the Marauders from 1992-1995. “It’s bittersweet, but the Navy has a much larger mission and the men and women of the squadron will do what it takes to accomplish that mission.”