MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Ariz. -- Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122, out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., arrived aboard the station Sept. 24 in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 1-06 and since then, have been working hard maintaining the aircraft in the course.
The VMFA-122 “Crusaders” deployed 10 of the 20 F/A-18 Hornets in the course and 125 maintenance Marines to ensure the aircraft are ready to fly every day.
“The 125 Marines we brought are about eighty percent of the total maintenance Marines here supporting WTI,” said Lt. Col. Kevin J. Killea, VMFA-122 commanding officer. “This is something that started last spring with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All Weather) 225. This is good because other Hornet squadrons didn’t have to send as many Marines to support the course.”
Lt. Col. Brian Beckwith, VMFA-122 executive officer, also said having so many maintenance Marines here helps reduce the tempo for other squadrons.
“Normally WTI pulls from squadrons that just returned from the (Unit Deployment Program) or a deployment from Iraq,” added Beckwith, a Yuma, Ariz., native. “With those Marines supporting WTI, the squadrons don’t run as smoothly back at home. They have to go from a day and night crew to one crew constantly rotating in order to keep planes flying.”
Even though the Crusaders are not a part of the WTI course, they are still able to train while supporting the course, said Killea, a native of Long Island, N.Y.
“We are seeing a lot of different scenarios that we normally don’t see in Beaufort,” said Cpl. Jacob Johnson, VMFA-122 airframes mechanic and native of Tyrone, Pa. “This was also about the same tempo that I saw while I was in Iraq. I would come back and do it again.”
“The Marines are working harder out here than they ever have before,” said Sgt. Thomas M. McNellis, VMFA-122 maintenance controller. “Every day the Marines have to fix nineteen of the twenty planes. Every day there is an average of thirty sorties when, on average in Beaufort, there are about twelve sorties a day.”
“The Marines here are doing the same work as in Beaufort, but with double the load,” said Killea. “I give the Marines a lot of credit. They have been working twelve hours on and twelve hours off, six out of seven days a week. The success of the course depends on them. They must have nineteen out of twenty aircraft ready every day.”
The Crusaders’ pilots have also been afforded the opportunity to train while in Yuma.
“The pilots with the unit are here providing support for WTI events,” said Beckwith. “We are also taking advantage of the terrain here and conducting in-house training like low altitude training, air-to-air training and dropping bombs.”
“Because of the different terrain, we have been able to drop ordnance that we wouldn’t be able to in Beaufort,” said Killea. “The desert terrain has allowed us to drop ordnance like precision-guided munitions.”
The training WTI provides for the Marines enrolled and for those supporting is very important, said Killea.
“The WTI course gives a great contribution to the maintenance practice for Marines,” said Gunnery Sgt. William Hetrick, VMFA-122 staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the fixed wing seat shop. “The course takes several Marines from different squadrons and puts them together to work. That is the same scenario Marines would face in Iraq.”
If it wasn’t for the maintenance Marines, pilots wouldn’t be receiving the training they are, said Hetrick, a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.
The Crusaders will be leaving Yuma and return to MCAS Beaufort, S.C. Nov. 2.