Thunderbolts, Sidewinders wrap-up final training cruise before deployment

31 May 2007 | Cpl. John Jackson

ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE – Marines and sailors with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 completed a two-week training cruise aboard the USS Enterprise today.

Over the past several months, the two squadrons have participated in three separate detachments from the Air Station, preparing them for their upcoming deployment on the Enterprise this summer.

This recent training evolution on the “Big E” is the squadrons’ second round on the ship since returning from a seven-month deployment aboard the aircraft carrier in November 2006.

Both squadrons boarded the Enterprise with basically one goal in mind – getting prepared for combat.

“It is essential for the squadrons to be here on the ship so we can be well trained when we fly combat missions,” said Capt. Michael Allen, a Thunderbolt pilot. “We want to make sure we get all the training possible before going (to combat) so we don’t have to learn any lessons there.”

Besides preparing each Marine and sailor for combat, going aboard the Enterprise for two weeks allowed the squadrons to get familiar with the ship one more time.

“Working on the ship is much different than working at the Air Station,” said Navy Lt. David Dartez, a Sidewinders pilot. “We all need to reintegrate ourselves to performing on the flight deck and the hangar bay of the carrier.”

While on board, the squadrons are fine-tuning the skills they had been working on during the previous detachments.

“Coming to the ship allows us to tie everything that we have learned together,” Allen said. “While at (Naval Air Station) Fallon, we focused heavily on dropping bombs and air-to-ground fighting tactics. Now we can use those skills while operating off the carrier.”

Not only do pilots experience a different atmosphere while aboard the Enterprise, maintenance personnel have a different lifestyle as well.

“The maintenance crew has done an outstanding job,” Dartez said. “Working on the flight deck and on the hangar bay can be a very dangerous and scary environment, but they are handling it great.”

Although being away from the Air Station and from family can be difficult for the Marines and sailors, this last training cruise before the squadrons’ deployment is very important, according to Allen.

“There is no substitute for the carrier environment,” Allen said. “I think after this training cruise, we have gained a lot of confidence in ourselves as a unit to perform in combat.”

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