MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
“More than seven decades have passed since 10 July 1941 when [2nd Marine Aircraft Wing] was activated in San Diego, [California]. Wars in the Pacific, in the Middle East and operations around the world have added to your battle colors, but have not dulled your spirit … As we continue to confront those who would do us harm, take pride in knowing you continue to add to the storied history of our Corps, and pause to remember those who have sacrificed so much in the defense of our nation.”
Those are the words of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps, commemorating the wing’s 74th anniversary. In his message, Dunford encouraged the Marines and Sailors of 2nd MAW to remember the past and look toward the future – a future where the next generation will remember the latest chapter in Marine Corps combat aviation.
On the heels of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s 73rd anniversary last year, the Marines of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, amid cheering crowds, waving banners and “welcome home” signs.
The event marked a significant step for the Marine Corps’ F-35B and F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program and stands as a watershed moment for 2nd MAW and all Marine Corps Aviation. VMAT-501, which reactivated during 2010 as a training squadron for naval aviators who will fly the Corps’ variant of the F-35, is the cutting edge of fighter aircraft development. It has trained nearly 350 pilots and maintainers so far, the first generation of a new era in naval aviation.
The Lightning II, which wowed audiences at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point during its 2014 air show as a highly visited static display, will one day rocket across the Eastern North Carolina sky, and the current plan places the bulk of the Marine Corps’ future F-35s at Cherry Point.
Each new step toward the Lightning II’s full replacement of the Marine Corps’ legacy aircraft – the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler – marks an increase in 2nd MAW’s ability to support training at home and operations abroad. It is designed with precision to provide the wing an unmatched expeditionary capability, able to project air power from both land and sea with a marked improvement over the Corps’ current attack, air-to-ground and electronic warfare prowess. It will complement the wing’s already robust rotary-aircraft capabilities, and will deploy alongside the MV-22B Ospreys and CH-53E Super Stallions currently protecting U.S. interests and expanding partnerships across the globe.
The evolution of the F-35B, and the diligence of all Marines of all ranks involved with its development, stand alongside the continued employment of both the Osprey and Super Stallion. All speak to the focus and spirit of all the Marines who carry the colors of 2nd MAW across the globe as it reaches 74 years of existence. The past year saw 2nd MAW Marines, Sailors and squadrons operating on six of the seven continents. 2nd MAW air support helped shift the balance of power in Iraq, ensured a smooth transition to Afghan authority in Helmand Province, and continues to bolster the crisis response capabilities of Marine Air-Ground Task Forces in Europe and Africa.
From nearest the flag pole at Cherry Point, to the rotary-heavy flight lines along the New River, to the Low Country filled with Hornets in Beaufort, a single voice carries the spirit of 2nd MAW and II Marine Expeditionary Force like a mantra – the tenets that define the focus of leaders across the wing: operational excellence, standards-based, respect and concern for all.
It has been a constant refrain throughout the ranks this past year, the Lightning II’s development and the Osprey’s unprecedented track record of reliable transport, standing as an embodiment of the wing’s renewed focus on a Marine Corps as fully invested in the past as it is in the future.
Just as the Osprey revolutionized troop transport and resupply, the F-35 expands the operational capabilities of the wing and the Marine Corps, and is the synthesis of nearly all fixed-wing aircraft capabilities the Marine Corps maintains in the legacy fleet it is designed to replace. The snub-nosed Prowler and its electronic countermeasure abilities; the Harrier and its unique vertical take-off and landing, suited for sea-based force projection; and the F-18’s unparalleled maneuverability, all wrapped into one breathtaking, slate gray winged juggernaut that will redefine the Corps’ capabilities in the 21st Century.
In short, the Lightning II is the destination at the end of Marine Corps fixed-wing aviation’s century-old journey. It is the peak, and possibly the final step, in current combat airpower development, and 2nd MAW is the forge for its refinement heading into, and beyond, the wing’s three-quarters century mark.
Looking back at the wing’s 74th year, there were many changes across 2nd MAW, with senior leaders leaving and new leaders taking the reins. The wing’s former commanding general, Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hedelund, passed command to Brig. Gen. Paul J. Rock Jr. last month. Before that, Sgt. Maj. Christopher G. Robinson handed the sword of office to Sgt. Maj. Richard D. Thresher as the wing’s senior enlisted advisor.
And though leaders change, the focus remains the same, with the wing’s ethos guiding all 2nd MAW Marines and Sailors like runway lights toward the future. A future with many unknowns but one constant – a commitment to providing the best aviation support the Marine Corps offers and the Marines and Sailors to uphold the wing’s motto, “Second to None.”
Happy anniversary, Marines and Sailors, Semper Fidelis.