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Thunderbolts, Sidewinders ship out

By Cpl. John Jackson | | July 6, 2007

Marines and sailors with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, also known as the Thunderbolts, and the ‘Sidewinders’ of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 departed the Air Station Thursday and headed back to the USS Enterprise.

The squadrons will embark on an estimated six-month deployment aboard the aircraft carrier, supporting the Global War on Terrorism, and U.S. and Coalition Forces on the ground.

“We are ready to go,” said Lt. Col. Michael Orr, the Thunderbolts commanding officer. “There is no question in my mind that the squadron is very well prepared to have a successful deployment.”

The Thunderbolts and Sidewinders have been training extensively for the past several months preparing for the deployment. Both squadrons participated in two training cruises aboard the USS Enterprise and spent an additional three weeks training at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev.

“The work-up at Fallon, as well as the two at-sea periods, gave us the tools and techniques to be ready,” Orr said.

Both squadrons returned last November from a six-month cruise aboard the Enterprise. Although both squadrons were welcomed back to the Air Station not long ago, there are several new faces deploying on the carrier for the first time.

“This will be the first deployment for several of our sailors,” said Cmdr. Geoff Cage, the Sidewinders commanding officer. “Turnover is normal for our squadron. We usually get several new sailors joining the squadron after a deployment.”

The Thunderbolts also have had a significant number of new Marines join the squadron since their last deployment.

“Fifty percent of our maintainers and two-thirds of our pilots are new to the squadron,” Orr said.

Although there are quite a number of new Marines and sailors deploying on the “Big E” for the first time, both squadrons are confident that they are prepared to succeed.

“We have great leaders, and the new sailors have gotten the training they need to be successful on this deployment,” Gage said.

“The majority of the new Marines have been on all the work-ups,” Orr said. “We’ve had a great turnover process and the new Marines have been trained to get the job done.”

Many different elements make deploying from the Air Station possible, and both the Thunderbolts and the Sidewinders are grateful for the support they have received.

“The squadron really appreciates the support we have gotten and continue to receive from (Marine Aircraft Group 31) and from (Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31),” Orr said. “It takes a lot of people and parts to make us prepared and they have given us all the tools.”

In addition to MAG-31 and MALS-31, the squadrons know ultimately that family support keeps the Marines and sailors uplifted.

“Our success on deployment comes from our families,” Gage said. “The smiles that are on our faces is a direct reflection of the support we get from home.”

“I think it is really important to remember the huge sacrifices our families make,” Orr said. “I truly appreciate all their support of their Marines or sailors and for the squadrons as a whole.”