Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, the “Thunderbolts” deactivated during a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, April 23. The ceremony was held to commemorate the unit’s nearly 80 years of service to our country, but the Thunderbolts won’t be gone long. Their colors will be temporarily cased and the unit will become an F-35C squadron at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina.
“When we found out the commandant made the decision to cease Hornet operations for VMFA-251, I think every single one of us went through the different phases of grief; denial, anger, sadness and acceptance - and that is where we are today,” said Lt. Col. Roy Nicka, commanding officer of VMFA-251.
VMFA-251 was activated on December 1, 1941 at Naval Air Station North Island, California as Marine Observation Squadron 251. While flying the Grumman F4F “Wildcat” during World War II, the squadron participated in numerous Pacific campaigns including Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz, Luzon, and the Southern Philippines.
Since then, the Thunderbolts have supported combat operations during the Korean War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Inherent Resolve.
“This patch right here, it represents a legacy, it doesn’t represent an aircraft, it doesn’t represent a current set of individuals, it represents a legacy that goes from the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, to the desert sands of the Middle East for over 79 years and that legacy will continue despite the transition of the aircraft,” Nicka said.
After flying the F/A-18 Hornet for last 34 years, they will now transition to the F-35C, the world’s only 5th Generation, long-range stealth strike fighter designed and built explicitly for carrier operations.
Despite changing aircraft, the unit’s mission will largely include most all of the F/A-18C-D missions with a few exceptions, said Maj. Shannon Waller, VMFA-251 executive officer. Initially, it will not likely include the Forward Air Controller mission set, but it will later expand to include the advanced capabilities of the F-35 and specifically its Electronic Warfare capabilities.
“By doing this today, we advance Marine aviation. We get the F-35C to the East Coast and become the first squadron to employ the F-35 on the East Coast from a carrier air wing. And to be that lucky Marine or Sailor who gets to wear that patch on their chest and to employ, maintain and fly the F-35s—I am certainly jealous. That legacy is going to live on in them and every T-bolt will live on in them,” said Nicka.