By Lance Cpl. Brady Wood
The Marines of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, also known as the Thunderbolts, deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to the Mediterranean Sea on the USS Enterprise on Friday, March 9.
During their deployment, VMFA-251 will support Operation Enduring Freedom, providing intelligence and reconnaissance and conducting close air support for the Marines on the ground.
“We will also be providing theater support, security operations, detachments to other countries and making port calls which are where we show other countries how Marines act,” said Lt. Col. Simon Doran, VMFA-251 commanding officer. “On top of that we will do combined missions with other countries … which will improve not just our readiness but their readiness as well.”
This is expected to be the last cruise for the Enterprise before it is retired, said Doran.
Doran explained that most of the unit’s Marines have only been back home in Beaufort for a total of five months before they had to start their training for this deployment.
“We had to work on regaining our qualifications, our currency and getting the new pilots up-to-speed with operating on a ship,” said Doran. “We did a monthlong deployment to the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada, where we honed our skills with the air wing. We practiced all the various skill sets that we could possibly do on deployment and then we did a weeklong deployment aboard the Enterprise, which was meant to work on the pilot’s proficiency with launching and landing from the aircraft carrier.”
The squadron had also just returned from a monthlong sea period conducting a Joint Task Force exercise.
All the pre-deployment work done by the Thunderbolts is essential, especially to those who were not on the squadron’s last Enterprise deployment.
“This is my first deployment on a ship,” said Cpl. Christopher Thrower, a VMFA-251 hydraulic nomadic instructional mechanic. “I had to (work up to) everyone else and I’m getting the experience of what it’s like to be on a flight deck.
“It’s a new experience which is something I like about the Marine Corps; you get to familiarize yourself with new jobs and I’m looking forward to this experience.”
Thrower also added he is looking forward to working with the squadron and spending time with the unit.
Doran feels as though all the training the unit has gone through has made them more than ready to deploy.
“We are ready to go,” said Doran. “We are absolutely trained in top-notch fashion, that’s tribute to all the Marines in the squadron who are ready to accomplish any skill set that they are called upon to do.”