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VMFT-401 trains Beaufort Marines

By Lance Cpl. Natasha S. Green | | June 10, 2004

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Marines from Marine Fighter Training Squadron-401 recently returned from a 23-day training deployment in support of Marine Aircraft Group-31 at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., May 26.

VMFT-401 is the only aggressor squadron in the Marine Corps. Its mission is to prepare pilots from other squadrons for combat by imitating the flying tactics of potential enemies.

During the deployment, six Marine and two Navy F-18 Hornet squadrons were trained with the aggressors of VMFT-401.

"We went to Beaufort to conduct (Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics) training and large force exercises with Marines from MAG-31," said  Lt. Col. Authur Sturgeon, VMFT-401 commanding officer.

According to Sturgeon, a DACT is a training exercise in which pilots' tactical skills are developed through the use of realistic combat threats.

During the large-force exercises the aggressor pilots fly against the training pilots.

"We get up to 18 of the fighters against 10 to 12 aggressor pilots," said Sturgeon. "It is a really large group."

Although most of the squadron's deployments rarely exceed two weeks, the Marines were prepared for the longer deployment and all the squadron's objectives were fulfilled.

"It was terrific. We met or exceeded every training goal that they had for us," said Sturgeon.  "We also exceeded our projected flight hours."

According to Master Sgt. Thomas L. Sheffield, VMFT-401 contracting officers representative, the squadron has a basic minimal amount of required flight hours every year.

"Right now, we are ahead of forecast flight hours because of the diligent effort of those on the deployment," he said.

Not only are the pilots of VMFT-401 responsible for the success of the deployment, but there were also support Marines that aided in mission accomplishment.

"I was in charge of flight scheduling. It went very well," said Cpl. Jamel Smith, operations clerk, VMFT-401. "We did everything that needed to be done to train."

Other Marines helped with preparation prior to the deployment.

"My job was to set up arrangements for the rental cars, housing and hangar space," said Cpl. Kevin Schinestuhl, fiscal clerk, VMFT-401. "Everything on this side ran smooth. There were no mishaps."

The squadron took nine F-5E Tiger II aircraft, and since VMFT-401 is the only squadron in the Marine Corps with the aircraft, they were required to bring their own maintenance crew on the deployment.

The aircraft are maintained by a civilian company, Sikorsky Support Services, Inc. Nearly one-third of the company's maintenance workers deployed with the squadron.

"Maintenance wise, everything went great. I am amazed that these jets are 30 years old, and we flew them three times a day with no major problems," said Ken Ryan, flight line lead man, Sikorsky. "I believe this was the best (detachment) we have ever had here. We didn't miss any sorties, and we are all looking forward to going back in December."

According to Ryan, the successful flights were not the only reason he considered the deployment to be the best he has experienced in his 15-year Sikorsky career.

"During this deployment, I actually learned that it doesn't matter if we are wearing (camouflage) or not. The Marines we deploy with still consider us their civilian Marines," said Ryan. "There was a seamless integration between us and the Marines."

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