MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- (Editors note: This article is the second of a four-part series that will look at the squadrons and Marines who recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to understand what mission they are focusing on now.)
The role of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in Operation Iraqi Freedom could be seen on television screens across the world on March 19 when air strikes began in Baghdad. Leading from the front of the air assault were three Fightertown F/A-18 squadrons along with more than 900 aviation support Marines on the ground.
The Hawks of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 were on the ground in
Kuwait alongside the Thunderbolts of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and operated under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 11 and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, in support of 1 Marine Expeditionary Force. The squadron left the Air Station for Kuwait on Feb. 10, and participated in Operation Southern Watch before joining OIF.
The deployment work-up and workload in Kuwait taxed combined with anxiety over the
impending conflict with Iraq was a heavy burden on many of the Marines.
"We worked two 12-hour shifts seven days a week so you didn't even have time to be
exhausted," said Staff Sgt. James Hinson, quality assurance representative, VMFA(AW)-533. "The nerves of some of the junior Marines started to bend but they never broke. They just went to work like everyone else."
As one of only four all-weather squadrons under MAG 11, the Hawks carried a large
number of night and poor weather missions beneath their wings. The Hawks made a name for themselves in the group with superior mission success and flight hours.
"When the commanding officer of the group tells you that you led the way in mission
success, that's a great feeling," said Capt. Tate A. Buntz, maintenance and materials control officer, VMFA(AW)-533. "While it's always a team effort, it's good to feel like you're the best of the best."
The Hawks received praise on their approximately 800 missions from up and down their chain of command, including the 3rd MAW commanding general.
"We couldn't have accomplished our mission here without the assets of the squadrons
from Beaufort," said Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, commanding general, 3rd MAW. "We really showed the world the power of Marine aviation during this operation."
When the squadron returned to Fightertown May 16, the commanding general of their
parent command, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, was on hand to welcome them home.
"It is great to see the Marines we trained playing a key role in operations and battlefield planning," said Maj. Gen. John G. Castellaw, commanding general, 2nd MAW. "It shows them that their hard work pays off."
Since returning to Beaufort the Hawks have taken time off to recover from the
deployment and are now set to getting back to speed for the future. With training deployments, such as the Weapons and Tactical Instructors course at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Az., and the possibility of a sea service deployment or participating in the constantly rotating Western Pacific deployment on hand, the Hawks are focusing on returning to 100 percent strength as
soon as possible.
"We are simply back to work getting our training and skills to their highest levels," said Capt. Thomas Smolenski, pilot, VMFA(AW)-533. "We are focused on the future but for the moment we are glad to be home."