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Yuma's VMA-311 prepare for on-ship deployment

By Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard | | February 25, 2010

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Marines from Yuma’s Marine Attack Squadron 311 returned to the air station Feb. 12, 2010, after spending a week aboard the USS Peleliu for aircraft carrier qualifications in preparation for their upcoming deployment.

The qualifications, also known as CQs, are held to ensure that pilots and support personnel, such as aircraft maintainers and flight crew, are qualified to work aboard the carrier and understand their jobs on ship.

“One thing about training on the carrier is that it’s not just the pilots that are getting trained, but the maintainers and sailors as well,” said Capt. Eric Fong, Tomcats pilot, who participated in the CQs.

The week of training began with the Peleliu departing Naval Base San Diego Feb. 8, followed shortly by four AV-8B Harriers flying out to the ship in the Pacific Ocean for basic landing and takeoff operations. While designed primarily for helicopter use, landing helicopter assault ships, or LHAs, such as the Peleliu can also support Harrier operations.

The squadron’s flight crew maintained the aircraft and trained with Navy flight deck crew on the ship’s sparce deck space, while squadron pilots rehearsed vertical landings and short takeoffs on the ship’s ever-rocking surface.

“Trying to land on something that’s constantly moving is always more difficult,” said Fong.

Flights continued throughout the night, focusing on operational needs in lower visibility.

“The big thing is learning to keep your head on a swivel, being aware of your surroundings, especially at night,” said Sgt. Dustin Sholl, squadron powerline mechanic, who has deployed aboard ship twice. “There are a lot more moving parts here than there are back in Yuma, and the visibility on the ship’s deck is very low.”

For many of the Marines involved in the training evolution, working aboard the aircraft carrier was a first.

“It’s a bit of a culture shock,” said Lance Cpl. Mark Ridoloso, squadron powerline mechanic. “When we first stepped onto the boat, I could feel it rocking, which made me kind of seasick, but I got used to it. It’s also not like what I expected it to be. It’s a lot smaller on the inside than how it looks on the outside. Navigating your way around the ship can be pretty difficult, too.”

The Tomcats flew approximately 46 hours throughout the week in order to prepare for their seven- to eight-month deployment.

The squadron plans to participate in more exercises aboard the Peleliu later this month and in March and is scheduled to deploy aboard the ship with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in May.


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