News: Mighty Shrikes headed to Kadena
Story by Cpl. Jennifer Pirante
IWAKUNI, Japan - Strike Fighter Squadron 94 advance personnel departed the air station toward Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Aug. 17, to complete final preparations for training evolutions to be carried out on the island.
VFA-94 sent six personnel Aug. 14 to prepare for operations by conducting site-surveys for workspaces and billeting before the advance and main body personnel arrived.
Also known as the Mighty Shrikes and home-based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., VFA-94 has been temporarily stationed here as the only Navy Hornet squadron to participate in the Unit Deployment Program.
UDP allows for the mobilization of units throughout the Western Pacific for periods of approximately six months. These units train in various forward-deployed environments and carry out training exercises such as Lava Viper in Hawaii and Talisman Sabre in Australia, standing ready to execute missions of the Corps.
VFA-94 will be conducting operations alongside Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, which wrapped up Southern Frontier 2011 this week.
Both squadrons are slated to receive an ample amount of command support from Marine Aircraft Group 12, logistical support from Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 and ordnance support from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12.
“MALS-12 helps us with any piece of ordnance,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles Benavidez. “They are really good about supporting us.”
According to Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Benavidez, VFA-94 assistant logistics officer, the planning process has gone smooth with minimal challenges.
Backed by flightline and logistical support from U.S. Air Force elements, operating in Okinawa will allow the squadron to carry out unique training missions they would not be able to perform almost anywhere else.
The vast ranges on the island can allow the squadron to train with significant amounts of live-ordnance, which is essential to every Hornet squadron mission.
While in Okinawa, the Mighty Shrikes will concentrate on air-to-ground support to improve squadron readiness and unit cohesion.
Training also allows naval F/A-18C Hornet pilots to improve their proficiency in the air-to-air arena while gaining significant qualifications.
“It’s going to be a lot of bombing for the pilots,” said Benavidez. “We’re restricted to the type of bombing tactics we can do here, so air-to-ground is our focus.”
Before departing, VFA-94 maintenance personnel worked hard to keep the operational tempo high in preparation for the deployment.
“We’ve been keeping busy flying as many jets as we can,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Bruce Gilstrap, VFA-94 line petty officer. “We’ll have everyone out here to get those birds up, and we’ve been able to do it each time.”
For many of the maintenance crew, conducting operations in Okinawa is no different than conducting operations anywhere else.
“We’re in the business of launching jets,” said Gilstrap. “We’re ready. It’s just a matter of packing up and getting over there.”
Essential main-body personnel are slated to depart via High Speed Vessel Saturday to carry out VFA-94’s overall mission.