Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, also known as the “Thunderbolts”, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, continue to showcase unit readiness through training for every possible scenario, while forward deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
The Thunderbolts have intensified training on familiarizing aircrew members with the Joint Protective Aircrew Ensemble (JPACE) and respirator, a pilot’s Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Defense equipment, while still maintaining focus on the squadron’s mission.
“The mission of VMFA-251 is to destroy surface targets and enemy aircraft, day or night, under all weather conditions, during expeditionary, joint and combined operations,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Christopher Melling, the pilot training officer with VMFA-251. “Training to flying in a ‘dirty’ environment truly allows for operations in any environment.”
Although gear is added to a pilot’s standard loadout, the training proves efficient with minimal effects to their capabilities.
“Due to the additional accoutrement with the gear, aircrew personnel have to adjust to where certain survival equipment sits and will be accessible,” said Melling. “The flight equipment Marines are the true heavy lifters in preparing the gear and assisting aircrew with donning the equipment. In truth, there is virtually no adjustment to normal operating procedures. The protective gloves offer the same level of tactile feedback. The onboard oxygen system interface with the equipment is identical, and even the ability to use night vison goggles is the same.”
The unorthodox, but necessary, style of training enhances readiness, while ensuring the safety of Marines and establishing comfort in an unfamiliar environment.