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Thunderbolts adjust to life aboard USS Enterprise

By Pfc. Nikki M. Fleming | | June 2, 2006

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For the Thunderbolts of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, the daily flightline routine at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., is literally a long way away, as the squadron is now operating aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

The squadron prepared for months prior to their current deployment, enduring the rigorous and lengthy Navy work-up process, which included two at-sea periods and two detachments at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., according to Lt. Col. John Jansen, the commanding officer of VMFA-251.

“It’s about getting Marines  that boat experience,” said Jansen. “We had to get our maintenance department to know the ship and be able to work in the conditions.”

To help with the transition to carrier-life, Navy augments have attached to the squadron. Airman Tamara Thomas, an aviation ordnance sailor, is one such augment who will work in the odrnance section for the entire deployment.

“Most of the Marine shops are understaffed and as a Navy augment, part of my job is to come in and help fill in spots to help man their work section,” Thomas said. “Also as a Navy augment, we help Marines adapt to working and living aboard the ship, especially those Marines who have never been on a ship before.”

According to Jansen, the augments maintain a good reputation within the Marine Corps because the squadron is able to draw from their Navy-specific training and experiences.

“These sailor augments are critical to our success,” said Jansen. “I think that the Marines find a lot of respect for their know-how and other knowledge that they may have.”

One Thunderbolt Marine agrees.

“The augments are hard workers,” said Sgt. Christopher Cole, an ordnance Marine with VMFA-251. “It does help having Navy augments with in the squadron. They teach us a lot about the boat.”

Acclimitizing to ship-board life presents many challenges, according to Jansen. Nearly everything is different from shore life - bulkheads, hatches and ladderwells are no longer just jargon, but a reality.

“We teach them about water-tight doors, the difference of a two-inch hose, fire drills and familiarization aboard the ship,” said Thomas.

Operating from the USS Enterprise presents the unique challenge of launching, recovering and maintaining jets at sea, according to Jansen.

“It is harder, especially on the flight deck, than on an air field,” Thomas said. “You have to make sure you hydrate all the time, it’s back-to-back work with very few breaks because you’re constantly moving. You have to build up endurance for this type of job.”

For Marines, a Navy augment helps them work alongside the sailors and side-step issues that are Marine or Navy specific, according to Thomas.

“It takes a lot of planning and professionalism to get these jets up and running,” said Jansen. “It really requires a lot of communication within the squadron.”

According to Cole, the augments are trusted mentors to Marines of all ranks, due to their familiarity and experience with shipboard operations.

“We have fun and everyone works hard,” Thomas said. “They know a lot of stuff that I don’t know so they also help me in return. I like working with them. We are like one big family.”

As flight operations continue aboard the USS Enterprise, the crew recently enjoyed a port call in Souda Bay, Greece. Underway once again, the Marines and sailors continue to prepare for missions around the globe.

“The squadron has worked very hard for this deployment,” said Jansen. “The Marines and sailors are willing to learn and do what needs to be done to complete any mission and have some fun along the way.”
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