Beaufort squadrons soar, Operation Enduring Freedom

7 Dec 2001 | Cpl. S. K. D'Alessio

Aircrews from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, who are currently stationed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, work day and night to prepare for the battle on terrorism.

The Marines and Sailors are putting their rigorous training to the test as they conduct flight operations for actual battle.

The pilots are reported to be flying missions "in country" about once every other day. And sometimes they fly more often, depending on how the missions are assigned.

"Being a new fleet pilot, the missions are rather demanding," said one captain pilot, who remains anonymous due to force protection conditions on the home front.

"They are comprised of long transits, multiple aerial refueling flights, and flight durations that I have never experienced. The end results, however, are definitely worth it. This is what I joined to Marine Corps to do."

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the Marines conduct their flight schedules in a relentless and dizzying manner.

According to the aircrew, who fix the squadron's F/A-18 Hornets, their 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. shifts can sometimes run longer than the twelve-hour norm, depending on the required maintenance.

"The Marines working in maintenance are really putting in overtime to ensure the squadron is at its peak operational readiness," he added.

"When we walk to the jets there is no doubt in any of our minds that everything is in excellent working order. And when bombs reach their targets, it is to the credit of the enlisted Marines doing their jobs."
"I would say the challenge comes mentally and physically. We aren't out here doing much dynamic maneuvering, so the physical challenge is not what we are used to," said the captain. "It is more about being able to sit in one spot for five or six hours."

"This is not noticed so much on the way in or near the target area, but it manifests itself on the way back. Again, the end definitely justifies the means."

The most challenging aspect of my job is keeping up with the special and hourly inspections at sea, he added.

From maintenance to administration, every section has been putting one hundred percent into everything they do.

"I go out everyday and do my job to the best of my ability and ensure that I send out safe aircraft for the pilots," said a corporal plane captain.

"Being out here is like being stuck in the movie "Ground Hog Day," it never seems to end. So sometimes it's challenging to find the energy to get up and do it all over again," he added.

But despite their frustrations, many of them would not trade places with anyone.

One young sergeant was about to transfer to another squadron prior to this deployment, but changed his mind to extend after Sept. 11.

The pressures of maintaining the hectic flight schedules were a challenge for the Marines. But to be ready for any and all challenges they may face during the deployment is what makes them the ultimate defenders of this nation.

It isn't all cold steel and high seas aboard ship though. There have been a few special moments during the deployment so far. One was the first strike mission for their battle group.

When the T-bolt's commanding officer was in flight, the ship's captain came over the sound system to announce that the flag raised at the World Trade Center was being flown on the ship to mark the start of the Battle Group's participation in Operation Enduring Freedom.

According to one the enlisted men, "Every Marine and Sailor on the flight deck that night was overwhelmed with pride.

"To our families back home, we are safe and thinking of you," said the squadron's sergeant major. "We thank you all for the enormous amount of support we are receiving from you. It is wonderful to know that we have the full support of the American people, especially the people in Beaufort. Keep the faith and we will all work through this tragedy and conflict together."