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Hawks return to Fightertown

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005127143341
Story by Cpl. Micah Snead

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (Jan. 28, 2005) -- Marines and Sailors from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 returned to the Air Station, Jan. 19, after a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific.

The Hawks and Stingers deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, July 9 for the six-month tour in support of the Unit Deployment Program. A UDP is a regularly scheduled deployment that rotates squadrons and units into and out of the Western Pacific region. MCAS Iwakuni hosts the units while they participate in training exercises and operations in the area.

It did not take long for the squadron to get busy in the region, with Marines deploying to Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia. Members of the squadron participated in Southern Frontier, an air-to-ground training exercise.

Southern Frontier combined assets from many different aviation units that were in the area.

"This sort of training is very beneficial to our overall competencies because we combined two different types of squadrons as well as work with our allies, the Aussies," said Cpl. Chivaz Whipple, aviation operations specialist, VMFA(AW)-533.

During the down-under deployment, some of the Marines visited the Delamere Range Facility where the finished product of the air-to-ground training is displayed.

"It was my first time at a bombing range and it was awesome," said Cpl. Brandon Coleman, administrative clerk, VMFA(AW)-533. "I have always wondered what the impact of our bombs would be like and it was amazing. It was better than I imagined."

The Hawks also contributed to Iwakuni's Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force open house in September by providing an aircraft for static display and pilots to speak with visitors. Opening up the installation gave the public a better appreciation for the U.S. forces in Iwakuni, according to Capt. Daniel Schnick, weapons and sensors officer, VMFA(AW)-533.

"It gives them an idea of what they are paying for," Schnick said. "They're paying with time and effort, and maybe even money, to allow us to come over here and participate in Western Pacific deployments."

The American pilots also took the opportunity to meet their Japanese counterparts and exchange notes on their own enthusiasm for flying.

"You can see that passion comes to light in their eyes, both the civilians and pilots," Schinick said. "You can see they love aviation."

In September and October, part of the squadron traveled to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, for the Hawaii Combined Arms Exercise. The Hawks joined the Gators from VMFA-142, two KC-130 squadrons, infantry and ground support units for the annual event. From Hawaii, the squadron moved on to Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Japan, for more training.

While the deployment kept the Marines and Sailors away from their families through the holidays, it was a small sacrifice to see them return home safely, according to Shannon Buchanan, wife of Sgt. Micheal D. Buchanan, Jr.

"I don't think these ever get any easier but I think this one was a breakthrough for my daughter," Buchanan said. "She really seemed to finally understand that Daddy would be home soon, and that made the time go by faster."

The Marines from both squadrons were looking forward to some time off to spend with their loved ones, but they all know the next deployment is always right around the corner.

"I don't want to think about or do anything but spend time with my family," said Cpl. John Vondra, powerplant mechanic, MALS-31.

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