Thunderbolts, Sidewinders begin combat ops

24 Aug 2007 | Cpl. John Jackson

ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE – Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, also known as the Thunderbolts, the Sidewinders of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86, and the other six squadrons that make-up Carrier Air Wing 1, started flying combat operations off the flight deck of the USS Enterprise Aug. 12.

Each of the eight squadrons, including the two from Fightertown, is supporting the Global War on Terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The squadrons’ focus is now on combat flight operations in support of coalition forces in Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Michael Orr, the Thunderbolts commanding officer. “We'll continue to train for all types of combat while we are in theater, but we're now focused on execution of combat missions.”

With combat operations in full swing aboard the “Big E,” missions for the pilots will begin to be more in depth and directly affect service members on the ground.

“Our pilots are well trained and ready for the OIF missions,” Orr said. “All of the training (Carrier Air Wing 1) has done to date, including our deployment to (Naval Air Station) Fallon, Nev., and our previous at-sea periods, have prepared the pilots well for these missions. The combat flights equate to long flights over vast distances, which means lots of mission planning, refueling, and time spent over the battlefield.”

Although the pilots are the only service members directly over the battlefield, the operations are a team-effort for everyone aboard the carrier.

“Since the first work-up until now, the Marines and sailors have been focused on what it takes to have a successful deployment and to take the fight to the enemy,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Darryl Green, the Thunderbolts maintenance chief. “This is truly a team effort.”

The maintainers for all of the squadrons not only ensure the aircraft are combat ready, but perform their duties in challenging conditions.

“The combat missions mean an increased sense of responsibility to make sure the jets are ready for long combat missions,” Orr said. “The added stress for the maintainers comes from the challenging conditions of operating in the Arabian Gulf in August. It's well over 110 degrees on the flight deck.”

Although it has been a week since combat operations began for CVW-1, the Thunderbolts and Sidewinders continue to train as well as take the fight to the battlefield, despite having several new Marines and sailors on this deployment.

“We came on this deployment with a lot of junior Marines,” Green said. “Any deployment is challenging, but a deployment onboard a carrier is even more challenging due to the fast paced work environment. The Marines and sailors have met this challenging atmosphere with ease. It’s quite impressive to see even the most junior Marine or sailor going above and beyond to ensure the squadrons are successful.”

“I'm proud of how this squadron has prepared and deployed for combat,” Orr said. “Our maintainers are working daily miracles in extremely challenging conditions to get the aircraft ready to go across the beach. This has been an outstanding team effort to prepare for combat operations, and I'm confident that the Thunderbolts, as well as Carrier Air Wing 1, will do our part to help with the fight in Iraq.”