MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- A long, illustrious era for one of the most decorated fighter attack squadrons of the Marine Corps officially came to an end here April 1. The Moonlighters of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 cased their colors March 30 in a formal Transition to Cadre Status Ceremony, but not for the last time.
It was a somber day on the flightline here, but during the ceremony it was duly noted that this squadron is going out on top: the Moonlighters were not only named the 2006 Marine Corps Aviation Association Fighter/Attack Squadron of the Year but they currently hold the longest streak of mishap-free flight hours for a tactical jet squadron with a remarkable 109,000 hours.
"The Aviation Combat Element of our Marine Air Ground Task Force became a little bit smaller today. It was the right decision and one that we thought long and hard about, yet it still troubles us all to a degree," said Col. Dave Beydler, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 31. "We are standing down and moving into cadre status a superb squadron."
The Moonlighters officially transitioned to cadre status here Saturday, leaving MAG-31 with six Hornet squadrons remaining. The squadron organized a full schedule of farewell events, including a farewell 3.32 mile run, the Moonlighters’ last Hornet flight, the formal transition ceremony, a golf tournament and a formal banquet.
“This event was kind of bittersweet for me because I hated to see the squadron stand down, but at least in a few years the Moonlighters will be brought back to life when they transition to the new Joint Strike Fighter,” said the now-retired Col. Mark Condra, the Moonlighters’ commanding officer from 1993-1995.
To “cadre” the squadron means that VMFA (AW)-332 will be disbanded and the Corps will redistribute the equipment and personnel assigned to the squadron, but the Moonlighters’ colors will be maintained in order to reactivate the unit upon the arrival of the replacement aircraft for the F/A-18, the F-35B Lighting II, Joint Strike Fighter. To “deactivate” a squadron means nearly the same, except there is not normally an intent to reactivate the unit in the near to mid-term future.
“Being the CO of the Moonlighters while we were in Iraq in 2005 was the best professional event of my career,” said the now-retired Lt. Col. David Wilbur, the former Moonlighters’ CO who also commanded the squadron when they broke the 100,000 mishap-free flight hours record. “I felt it was fitting that my last flight in the Corps was also the squadron’s last flight before they went into cadre status.”
The Moonlighters were selected to cadre last year as part of the Marine Aviation Plan, designed to address Corps-wide aircraft transitions, operational tasking, readiness, aircraft inventory shortfalls, manpower challenges, safety and fiscal requirements and to posture Marine Aviation for the next 10 years and beyond. During this challenging transition period, the Corps will go from 13 to 18 to 7 Type/Model/Series aircraft before all transitions are complete.
Two Marine Hornet squadrons have been selected to cadre in 2007 to help address the service life limits of the F/A-18, in order to maximize the current inventories of the Hornet. The other Hornet squadron is VMFA-134 at MCAS Miramar, Calif.
“The past year serving with the Marines of ‘332 was the best year of my career,” said Lt. Col. Samuel Kirby, the last Moonlighters’ commanding officer of the Hornet-era. “Standing down this squadron was a sad occasion, yet it is also an honor because we are the first squadron that will be making the way for the new Joint Strike Fighter.”