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T-Bolts, Sidewinders back at sea

By Cpl. John Jackson | | March 9, 2007

ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE – The Thunderbolts of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and the Sidewinders of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 headed back to the USS Enterprise recently for approximately three weeks of training. 

Both Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort-based squadrons were on the USS Enterprise last year for a historic seven-month deployment, which included a two-month detachment in which pilots from both squadrons rotated between the carrier and Al Asad Air Base.

This time while aboard the ship, both VMFA-251 and VFA-86 are here to train new Marines and sailors, as well as refresh the ones who have been on the aircraft carrier before.

“We’ve had a 62 percent turnover ratio since the last time we were on the carrier,” said Maj. Timothy Frank, the Thunderbolt’s executive officer. “We really want to get the new Marines in the squadron exposed to the environment on the ship, and re-familiarize the ones who have been here before.” 

“We’ve got a lot of new sailors who have never seen a flight deck before,” said Navy Lt. Jason Dalby, a Sidewinders’ pilot. “It’s a great experience for them to be able to have this opportunity to train.”

For those Marines and sailors who have not been aboard the USS Enterprise, there are some challenges they must overcome.

“I think the hardest part is getting used to everything,” said Sgt. Enoch Thorne, a Thunderbolt maintenance control Marine. “I’m not used to sleeping with 18 guys in one room.”

Not only are the berthing quarters unfamiliar, but just maneuvering throughout the ship is a daunting task for new Marines and sailors on board the carrier - with its seemingly never-ending series of ladders and passageways.

“I’ve gotten lost twice,” Thorne said. “But I’m slowly getting the hang of where I am going.”

Even though life on the ship is different than back in Beaufort, the Marines and sailors are still accomplishing their mission.

“It’s been several months since we’ve been aboard the ship, but the sailors are performing outstanding,” Dalby said. “Everyone is getting their job done quickly and more important – safely.”

“I’m very proud of the Marines’ performance so far,” Frank said. “We got here and are doing what has to get done.”

In addition to getting the enlisted personnel up to speed with life at sea, the Thunderbolts and the Sidewinders know the aircraft of each squadron is the reason they are there. Several VMFA-251 and VFA-86 pilots are also new to the USS Enterprise and have their work cut out for them.

“The main thing is to get everyone carrier qualified,” said Capt. Ben Taylor, a Thunderbolt pilot. “This three weeks gives (pilots) the opportunity to do operations and take-off and land on the ship.”

“While we are here, the main focus is to get the pilots trained,” Dalby said. “We will be doing several different training operations to prepare us all.”

The squadrons are adjusting to life aboard the USS Enterprise, and both are well prepared for the three-week training deployment.

“Everyone on the ship works together as one big team and the Thunderbolts and Sidewinders are prepared to work hard and get everyone well trained for the carrier,” Frank said.