Thunderbolts strike during OIF

18 Jul 2003 | Lance Cpl. Micah B. Snead

(Editors note: This article is the first of a four-part series that will look at the squadrons and Marines who recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to understand what mission they are focusing on now.)

The streets and skies of Beaufort are a little more crowded these days, since the Air Station squadrons that participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom have returned home after successfully accomplishing their missions abroad. 

Three squadrons and more than 900 Marines in total were deployed to the U.S. Central
Command's Area of Operations to join the fight against Saddam Hussein's regime in

The Thunderbolts of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 played a pivotal role in the
operation as one of two Fightertown-based squadrons that operated from an on-shore air
base in Kuwait. 

Prior to the deployment, the T-Bolts underwent a grueling 24-hour work up.  The
maintenance Marines began working 12-hour shifts in December to have the aircraft in
top shape for a possible deployment in February.

"It was a heavy, hectic work load," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 David L. Baker,
maintenance and materials control officer, VMFA-251. "But our Marines responded.  It
meant very little time off for everyone but it had to be done to accomplish the mission."

All of the squadron's aircraft, and the majority of the Marines, departed the Air Station on Feb. 12, headed towards the looming conflict with Iraq. 

The T-Bolts were based in Kuwait alongside Air Station squadron Marine All-Weather
Fighter Attack Squadron 224 and Marine Aircraft Group 11, Marine Corps Air Station

While the setting was very unfamiliar for the squadron, some friendly faces could be
found as augments from Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 were in the same area.

"It was different being away from our parent group, and of course we missed the
outstanding support from MALS-31," Baker said.  "But out there you make do with what
you can.  It is all a part of the environment."

In total, '251 flew over 600 combat missions with nearly 850,000 pounds of ordnance
dropped.  After combat operations came to a close, the T-Bolts were recognized by the
MAG and Marine Aircraft Wing commanding officers for an excellent job during OIF.

"Our east coast squadrons were a valuable asset because of the success they had," said
Commanding General, Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.  "We were
very glad to have the Hawks and T-Bolts under our wing, and we look forward to
working with them again in the future."

When the squadron returned to Beaufort, May 13, a crowd of over 200 family members,
friends and loved ones welcomed them.  The T-Bolts were soon basking in the glory of a
job well done.

"It felt so great when we first came home, because everyone looks at us like we are
heroes," said Lance Cpl. Scott Adkins, embarkation and combat service support
specialist, VMFA-251.  "But we recognize that the true heroes are the Marines who never came back. We are glad to be home, but we will never forget the sacrifices made during OIF."

After some well-deserved time off, the T-Bolts have already increased their pace, getting themselves ready for their next deployment, whenever or wherever it might be.

"We are always planning for the future," said Capt. Chad VandenBerg, pilot and flight
schedules officer, VMFA-251.  "Whether it is new pilots joining the squadron, or pilots
going out for more training, we will always work to better ourselves.  Our part of OIF is finished, but our next mission is right around the corner."