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Thunderbolts, Sidewinders return from 6-month deployment

21 Dec 2007 | Cpl. James M. Mercure Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

Hundreds of families and friends braved the cold weather to welcome home their Marines and sailors from a six-month deployment aboard the USS Enterprise, Saturday and Sunday.

 More than 400 Thunderbolts of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, Sidewinders of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 and Stingers from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 left Fightertown in early July aboard the USS Enterprise as members of Carrier Air Wing One.

 During the deployment, the Enterprise sailed more than 50,000 miles, from its homeport in Norfolk, Va., to provide air support for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom for the second time in two years.

 “The deployment was a tremendous success,” said Lt. Col. Michael Orr, VMFA-251’s commanding officer. “The Thunderbolts performed magnificently out there, in spite of the challenging conditions.”

 “The maintenance crew played a pivotal role in the success of the mission,” Orr said. “We couldn’t accomplish our mission without them.”

 While deployed, the two squadrons flew more than 6,400 hours, completed more than 2,270 sorties and successfully completed more than 2,200 day and night carrier arrested landings.

 “The squadrons did incredibly well,” said Cmdr. Geoffrey Gage, VFA-86’s commanding officer. “It was incredible the way the sailors and Marines rallied together to achieve the objective we set out to do.”

 During much of the deployment, both squadrons provided around-the-clock close-air support for the troop surge for OIF.

 “The majority of the time we spent was for the surge in Iraq supporting Coalition Forces,” said Cmdr. Paul Spedero, VFA 86’s executive officer. “There was a larger air support requirement due to the increased patrols.”

 Working 12-14 hour days - every day, for six months, the Thunderbolts and Sidewinders took advantage of much-needed liberty during port calls throughout their deployment.

 Hundreds of Marines and sailors were able to visit Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates (Dubai) during three separate visits and Cannes, France for a historic port call. This was the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, that an American aircraft carrier stopped in France.

 “France was amazing,” said Cpl. Tony Martinez, an airframer with VMFA-251. “The whole trip was definitely an experience to remember.”

 After the tears of joy were wiped away, and their seabags were collected, the Marines and sailors were happy to be home for the holidays.

 “It always feels great to come home,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Alejandre, VMFA-251’s avionics officer. “The timing couldn’t be better, coming home before Christmas.”

 “It’s wonderful to have our family whole again,” exclaimed Jodie Batzer, spouse of a returning Fightertown sailor. “The presents didn’t matter this year, our children just wanted their daddy back and they got him.