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Home at last: VMFA-115, MALS-31 return from Western Pacific;

By Lance Cpl. Jenn Farr | | January 22, 2007

Friends and family members of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 braved the drab, gray skies and cold rain Monday to warmly welcome the last of the Silver Eagles returning safely to the Air Station.

Approximately one hundred-and-fifty-five Silver Eagles and 56 Marines with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31, the Stingers, have returned in the past five weeks from a six-month deployment in the Western Pacific.

Marines from the Lowcountry flew 20 hours to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan last July, according to Maj. Derek Brannon, a pilot with the Silver Eagles.

“The squadron was ready for flight operations from the minute we landed in Japan.” Brannon said. “And that momentum was kept up throughout the duration of the tour, really helping to maximize the success of the deployment.”

The squadron left Iwakuni in August to participate in training exercises at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. While at Kadena, the Marines dropped approximately 320,000 pounds of ordinance while working closely with Forward Air Controllers from 3rd Marine Division, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 5th Air and Naval Gunfire Liasion Company.

While in Kadena the squadron also took advantage of the area’s culture, history and extracurricular opportunities. Eight Marines hiked the 12,388-foot Mount Fuji and 10 received their scuba certifications through services offered on the base.

“It was a great hike with a great group of people,” said 1st Lt. Shelly Kurtz, the assistant aviation maintenance officer for VMFA-115, on climbing Mount Fuji. “It was definitely as challenging as advertised, but overall a great thing to do - once.”

After completing exercises in Kadena toward the end of September, the squadron returned to Iwakuni for a short time before heading to Osan Air Base, South Korea in October, where the Stingers and the Silver Eagles conducted more training with the U.S. Air Force as well as pilots from the Republic of Korea Air Force, according to Brannon. Approximately 100 Air Station Marines toured the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea during their visit.

“It was pretty intense to see the amount of precautions each side takes to protect that area,” said Sgt. Jack Hoppes, an ordnanceman for the Silver Eagles. “There is so much propaganda but at the same time all of the hills are covered in mines and it makes you appreciate where you’re from that much more.”

The squadron split in November after completing training in South Korea, according to Brannon. Half of the squadron returned to Kadena as a partial squadron training detachment to participate in air-to-ground and air-to-air training on the island of Okinawa, while the other half returned to Iwakuni to continue unit-level training there.

By late December the advanced party for the squadron was on their way home and the Marines who went to Kadena rejoined the rest of VMFA-115 and MALS-31 in Iwakuni before returning home last week.

“It always feels good to come home,” said Cpl. Damean Lyon, an ordnanceman with the Silver Eagles. “But, I signed up to do my part and whatever the Corps needs me to do, I will do. It is necessary for us to train on deployments such as these, so we are prepared in the event that we are called to action.”