MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- A quick walk through any of the facilities aboard the air station will make apparent the fact that the number of Marines and sailors here has been drastically reduced.
Most of the squadrons here have already been deployed or are in the process of packing up their gear to catch a plane overseas.
One squadron, however, has no plans to deploy. But that doesn't mean they aren't doing their part to help assist with Operation Enduring Freedom.
Marine Fighter Training Squadron-401 stays busy by acting like bad guys, so other squadron can prepare themselves by practicing being the good guys.
"We're professional bad guys," said Maj. Brent Dennis, VMFT-401 director of safety and standardization.
What he means is that he and his coworkers are at the service of other squadrons who want to test their skill against enemy tactics. VMFT-401 pilots simulate these realistic enemy tactics using realistic enemy-style aircraft, said Dennis.
Usually, when a squadron wishes to wage a simulated battle against fellow pilots, they break into two groups, one being good guys and the other made up of the enemy. During the combat exercise, they only get to practice their skills for half of the time. The other half is spent setting up the other group with realistic enemy threats, said Dennis.
But when they request assistance from VMFT-401, they get a chance to defend themselves against the enemy's tactics throughout the entire exercise, which maximizes the time they actually spend learning, said Dennis.
And since VMFT-401 is the only squadron in the Marine Corps with the F-5 Tiger aircraft, the experience of fighting against them is something not found anywhere else, except for maybe in an actual battle.
The psychical performance of the Tiger, including the turning and speed capabilities, sets it apart from any other aircraft in the Marine Corps' inventory, said Maj. Edward L. O'Connor, assistant operations director at VMFT-401.
"We're the only professional adversaries the Marine Corps has," said O'Connor, who explained that their main purpose is to provide accurate and effective simulation of real-world threats, using threatening aircraft.
The squadron has eight full-time pilots, which means that they are either active-duty or active reservists, and 12 inactive reserve pilots. The reservists are all pilots for commercial passenger or cargo airlines. O'Connor used to fly for Southwest Airlines prior to being activated, he said.
VMFT-401 also saves the government money by contracting civilian mechanics from Sikorsky Support Services to work on their jets, as opposed to military personnel.
Since the civilian mechanics can't deploy and they change stations very rarely, this allows the squadron to always have experienced mechanics in the shop, and it also drastically reduces the time needed having to get new mechanics trained, said Dennis.
VMFT-401 has to always be on their toes, checking out what other nations have and how they are improving their tactics and aircraft.
"You can't discount a threat, regardless of its likelihood," said Dennis. "We have to train for the next war, not the last one."