MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, South Carolina -- Four F/A-18D Hornets with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort March 16. The squadron has been deployed to the Western Pacific since October 2015 as part of the Unit Deployment Program.
VMFA(AW)-224 arrived at MCAS Iwakuni Oct. 7, 2015, with more than 180 Marines and 10 F/A-18D Hornet aircraft. The goal of the UDP is to raise the overall readiness level of the squadron, produce and sustain qualifications for the pilots and to get the pilots what they need to properly operate the aircraft.
“We learn new and exciting things every time we deploy with a foreign military,” said Lt. Col. Michael P. Shand, commanding officer of VMFA(AW)-224. “There are only so many ways to operate a fighter squadron, and we all do it a similar way, further building trust and confidence in any future endeavors we might share.”
The UDP allows units to conduct training that would not be possible at their home bases. VMFA(AW)-224 participated in Exercise Island Warrior at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, and conducted the Chitose Aviation Training Relocation exercise.
The Chitose Aviation Training Relocation exercise involved dissimilar air combat training alongside and against the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to further support combined interoperability and Pacific theater security cooperation.
“We have a need to practice with other aircraft that are not F/A-18D Hornets,” said Shand. “Chitose ATR gives us an air-to-air training opportunity, and since we have several different generations of aircrew in the squadron, for some this is their first deployment.”
Many of the pilots fought against dissimilar aircraft for their first time. They trained against the F-15J/DJ Eagles from the JASDF’s. The Eagles encompass different performance characteristics, forcing VMFA(AW)-224 to maneuver their aircraft in a different fashion.
“I believe the [the exercise] has strengthened over time and it gives UDP units an opportunity to strengthen and sharpen their skills as well,” said Shand. “Overall, this will continue to increase the readiness of Marine combat units across the theater.”
The Chitose Aviation Training Relocation exercise allowed the squadron to work on air-to-air abilities as well as one versus one, two versus two and beyond visual range training. The Island Warrior exercise had Marines building other skills.
“Island Warrior focuses on close air support and forward air control,” said Maj. Dustin Cook, pilot and director of safety and standardization with VMFA(AW)-224.
Before Island Warrior, the squadron participated in a series of similar exercises to develop greater operational readiness by honing their tactics, techniques and procedures. Every Marine in the squadron had the opportunity to hone their skills.
“We went to Guam and completed a lot of qualifications for our pilots,” said Lance Cpl. Garrett Tallent, aviation ordnance technician with VMFA(AW)-224. “The exercises provide good on-the-job experience by allowing us to load different types of ordnance.”
Tallent said this was his first deployment and he enjoyed adapting to a new environment and had great experiences on and off base.
“I enjoyed my time in Iwakuni, it was awesome being able to go out in town and experience the new culture,” said Tallent.
The rest of the Hornets and Marines are slated to return to MCAS Beaufort later in week.