Thunderbolts, Sidewinders train at NAS Fallon, Nevada

13 Jan 2006 | Lance Cpl. Zachary Dyer

While most of the world spent the beginning of the New Year making resolutions, two of Fightertown’s squadrons packed up for an early start in 2006.

On Jan. 7, Marines and sailors from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and Navy Strike Fighter Attack Squadron 86 departed the Air Station for a one-month training exercise at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev.

"We are going to Fallon to participate in exercises that will prepare us for an upcoming deployment to the USS Enterprise this year," said Capt. Jay Zarra, the ground safety officer and a pilot for the Thunderbolts.

All of the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 1 are aboard NAS Fallon for the training. The training is designed to prepare the squadrons of the air wing to work together during their deployment.

“This is graduate-level tactical training that brings the entire carrier air wing together to train to fight as a team,” said Lt. Col. John Jansen, the commanding officer of the Thunderbolts.

While underway, the Thunderbolts will work alongside the Navy squadrons and participate in air-to-air and air-to-ground exercises. The squadron was recently qualified as an official ‘boat squadron’ and will also be evaluated on their abilities to perform as one while in Fallon, according to Zarra.

“As a boat squadron we are able to deploy aboard aircraft carriers, which makes us even more expeditionary,” Zarra said. “Going to Fallon is just baby steps towards the final mission.”

The level and difficulty of training at NAS Fallon will increase as the days go by, according to Navy Lt. David Dartez, a pilot with VFA-86.

“There is a crawl, walk, run mentality to the entire detachment,” Dartez said. “Training will escalate as the month goes on. The last week of training is a campaign, a war where each flight builds onto the next.”

The setup in Fallon will resemble the atmosphere and work environment of being afloat, allowing the Thunderbolts to sharpen their skills. Preparing for the boat is a major part of the one-month trip to Fallon.

“This is where we bring everything together in order to execute it properly when we deploy,” Dartez said.

Although NAS Fallon is a training environment, Jansen expects his Marines to operate as if they were in a combat atmosphere.

“Ultimately, what I expect out of them is to accomplish the mission and take care of each other,” Jansen said.

Life at sea is very different from operating ashore, according to Zarra. There are many different procedures and a total change of atmosphere from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

“When we are on the boat, it's not like we can just go into the hangar and get an aircraft part - things are different on the flight decks,” Zarra said. “Everything operates like clockwork on the boat. Everything has got to happen at a certain time. If it doesn't, then it throws everything else off.”

The Thunderbolts are no stranger to working with the Navy or aboard NAS Fallon. They participated in a one-month detachment to Fallon in June, which was a precursor to this deployment, according to Zarra.

“We prepared for this when we went to Fallon last time,” Zarra said. “The maintenance Marines and pilots are ready to take on this task. Being ready is a must for a deploying squadron and we are definitely ready.”

The operational tempo will not slow down once the Thunderbolts return to Fightertown. Their schedule includes one more month-long workup aboard the carrier before their six-month deployment begins.

"It has been really rough getting ready for the boat," said Lance Cpl. Brandon Hernandez, a power line technician for the Thunderbolts. "We work long hours everyday to get our jets and people working. It's a lot of work, but it's what we do as a deploying Hornet squadron."

All that hard work has paid off, according to Jansen.

“I would say that we are poised for success in a way that we have not been for some time,” Jansen said. “And that is due to the hard work and professionalism of the young Marines and sailors of VMFA-251.”