MCAS BEAUFORT, SC -- On November 28, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 embarked aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) for the carrier's maiden deployment.
Following an initial two-day carrier qualification period off the coast of Virginia, the Truman and its almost 5,000 Marines and Sailors set sail across the Atlantic. The first stop, near Rota, Spain, allowed the pilots of VMFA-312 to hone their flying skills before Truman and its battlegroup entered the Mediterranean.
The Checkerboards plowed through the first half of December balancing Mediterranean flight operations with Arabian Gulf strike and intelligence planning. The squadron also seized the opportunity to send a small maintenance team, two aircraft, and four pilots to Tunisia for nine days of training with the Tunisian Air Force.
The superb effort by their maintenance personnel allowed the Checkerboards to be the only Hornet squadron from Carrier Air Wing 3 to make every scheduled mission while detached to Tunisia.
Meanwhile the rest of the squadron executed shipboard operations north of Algeria, specifically concentrating their training on the delivery of the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). A two thousand-pound GPS-guided bomb, JDAM allows targeting using a set of coordinates. The bomb will then use an onboard navigation system as well as GPS to guide itself to the target.
The biggest highlight of the cruise so far was a visit by Fox Sports NFL Sunday, the Secretary of Defense, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, singer/songwriter Jewel, Senator John Glenn, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, country singer Shane Minor, and comedian/writer Al Franken. It was the largest production ever to take place on a deployed aircraft carrier - and it all took place in one day on board Truman.
Fox Sports production team members arrived a week prior to prepare for the time-delayed, live broadcasts of two NFL pre-game shows. Show host Howie Long, James Brown, Cris Collinsworth, and Terry Bradshaw arrived December 15, to sign autographs and prepare for taping. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders followed the Fox team, giving the crew a preview recital and also signing autographs.
It was cold, windy, and at one point, drizzling on the flight deck as the Fox Sports NFL Sunday taping got underway. Even the worst winds couldn't silence the crowd that gathered around the set. Autographed footballs were hurled into the crowd and Sailors laughed and cheered as Marines chased Bradshaw off the set's "Toughman turf" and around the flight deck before bringing down the former Steelers Hall-of-Fame quarterback.
The cheerleaders put on a half-time show and then it was back to the live fun of their second production taping.
The day did not end there, once the Fox set closed down another set opened. Secretary of Defense William Cohen's Holiday USO show, his last before leaving his post, kicked off in the ship's hangar bay. After a brief introduction by the carrier's Commanding Officer Captain David Logsdon, Cohen and his wife, Janet, took the stage.
"This marks our fourth, and last, holiday tour," Cohen said. "I want you know how much serving in this capacity has meant to me and my wife, it's been the best possible experience of our lives. I say that with the greatest sincerity, having an opportunity to serve you and see what sacrifices your families make on behalf of our country. It is truly inspiring."
The remainder of the show was full of many emotions. Former Marine pilot and astronaut, Senator John Glenn pumped up the crowd with a speech about the importance of Truman's forward presence. Many were on the verge of pride-filled tears as two Medal of Honor recipients greeted the crew and told the Sailors and Marines the medals they bear are worn for every service member, thanking them for the sacrifices they make, deployed, away from loved ones.
The moment FOX and the Secretary of Defense departed it was back to business as usual for the Checkerboards. After several more days of flight operations, Truman pulled into Souda Bay, Crete, for four days of well-deserved liberty. But by Christmas Eve, Truman was back to sea conducting flight operations while steaming toward Port Said, Egypt. The Checkerboards of VMFA-312 closed out the first month of their six-month deployment by transiting the Suez Canal enroute to the Persian Gulf where they will conduct missions in support of Operation Southern Watch.
The Checkerboards are scheduled to return home to Beaufort in May 2001.