MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Marine Aircraft Group 31 aircrews unleashed thousands of 20mm cannon rounds and hundreds of pounds of ordnance as they honed their close-air support skills last week during the MAG-31 Bombing Derby at Townsend Bombing Range in McIntosh County, Ga.
Participating Fightertown F/A-18 squadrons included Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, VMFA-251, VMFA-312, Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 and Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86. The squadrons competed in the derby to improve their bombing and strafing accuracy, and to strengthen their ability to execute proper tactics, techniques and procedures for air-to-ground deliveries.
"At the bombing derby, all the aircrew in the MAG renewed and reinforced their understanding and ability to safely, effectively and accurately deliver air-to-ground munitions for the Marine Air Ground Task force they support," said Col. Dave Beydler, the commanding officer of MAG-31.
One of the primary missions of the Hornet aircrew right now is to support ground and urban operations in Iraq while providing the close air-to-ground assistance to land forces, according to Lt. Col. Bill Maxwell, the commanding officer of VFMA-312.
"The current mission for deployed squadrons is close-air support for the troops on the ground. These types of events help us focus on those skills and highlight the areas we need to improve upon," Maxwell said.
The Hawks of VMFA(AW)-533 had the best accumulative score overall and were also recognized as having the best machine gun aircrew.
"It was good to compete with all of our peers in MAG-31 while working on our weapon skills," said Capt. Michael Conte, a weapons and sensors officer with the Hawks. "I think the pressure of competition pushes us to become better overall aviators."
The Checkerboards of VMFA-312 were awarded the best rocket delivery and the most precise bomb drops of the derby.
"The competition brought out the best in all of us, but this format also gave us the opportunity to evaluate the skills we need to work on as well," Maxwell said.
This was good training for the ordnancemen as well, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Patrick Najmulski, the ordnance officer for the Silver Eagles of VMFA-115.
The bombing derby gave the ordnance Marines of all the squadrons a chance to work with ordnance that they do not get to normally work with here in Beaufort, Najmulski explained.
"The fact that is was competition induced the kind of stress the ordnancemen go through to perform extraordinary well if in a deployed, combat environment,” Najmulski said.
Overall the bombing derby went well for MAG-31, and they are planning another Group-level training exercise in the coming months, according to Lt. Col. John Farnam, a MAG-31 training cell officer.
“The best thing that came out of this derby in Townsend was it opened the aircrews’ eyes to low-altitude weapons employment,” Farnam said.