MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- As Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 return from a three-week sustainment exercise aboard USS Enterprise, both squadrons have completed the training they came here to do.
The Thunderbolts and Sidewinders first mission when they came aboard, was setting up their workspaces and getting everything and everyone prepared for the arrival of their squadron’s jets.
“We got here and got our shops up and running quickly,” said Gunnery Sgt. William Schmett, the Thunderbolts powerline division chief. “We also had to make sure everything was set up for when the jets flew on.”
The squadron’s jets began flying on to the carrier March 2, with the last of the jets making the journey to the Enterprise March 3 and 4.
With all the aircraft on board, the squadron’s mission changed from simply getting set up to executing flying missions over the Atlantic during scenario-based exercises.
“We are here to get everyone trained to be on a carrier,” said Warrant Officer Thomas Rhame, the Thunderbolts maintenance material control officer. “In order to accomplish that goal, we have got to keep our jets in the air.”
Keeping the jets maintained is a challenging task no matter where the squadrons are stationed. But keeping the jets flying while aboard the USS Enterprise makes it an even more difficult task.
“The operating environment is at a very high tempo on the aircraft carrier,” said Chief Petty Officer Ronny Morris, the Sidewinders maintenance chief.
“Back at (MCAS Beaufort) if we lose a flight we have a chance to make it up,” Rhame said. “Here if we lose a flight we don’t meet mission.”
Making mission is the number one goal for both squadrons, and to accomplish the task, they rely heavily on their squadron’s maintenance shops.
“We have outstanding maintainers,” said Lt. j.g. Richard Woodward, a Sidewinders pilot, “from the sailors who just checked in to the squadron, to the chiefs who have been in for twenty years.”
“The (maintainers) have done an excellent job thus far,” Rhame said. “We’ve got nine jets onboard, and we are keeping them all in the air.”
The Thunderbolts and Sidewinders have been training for weeks aboard the “Big E.” Missions have flown daily, and the maintainers for both squadrons have met their goals of keeping the jets in the air.
“This is our job,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Zachary Henderson Sr., the Sidewinders power plants leading petty officer. “This is the mission we came here to do.”
“Having an effective maintenance department is essential to running a squadron,” Woodward said. “As an aviator, we can’t do our job unless the maintainers do their job first. We are confident that they will continue the hard work to make our squadron an efficient fighting force."