'Fighting Bengals' provide support for Exercise Lava Viper
By Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg
| Marine Corps Base Hawaii | January 31, 2014
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION KANEOHE BAY --
Marines with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 wrapped up their support of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment’s Exercise Lava Viper at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii Jan. 29, 2014.
Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg
Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort
Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay
Marine Corps Base Hawaii
MCAS Kaneohe Bay
VMFA(AW)-224, or the “Fighting Bengals,” is based out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., known for its fighter jets. The Bengals flew 12 F/A-18D Hornets to MCAS Kaneohe Bay Jan. 10 to conduct aerial operations and provide support during the Lava Dogs’ training.
“We’re currently on a six-month rotation through the Western Pacific area of responsibility as part of our deployment,” said Capt. Sean Roberts, assistant admin, legal and morale officer with VMFA(AW)-224, and a 31-year-old native of Colorado Springs, Colo. “We stopped here to support the Marines as part of our deployment. Being in Hawaii for three weeks isn’t a bad deal.”
At MCAS Beaufort, the Bengals have less opportunity to train to their full potential due to the densely-populated area along the east coast, according to Roberts. The air station is also limited to using a single range, the Townsend Bombing Range, located in Georgia.
“Being able to work with (1st Bn., 3rd Marines) on the ‘Big Island’ was great because we were able to drop live ordnance,” Roberts explained. “The ordnance Marines (were able to load) live ammunition and high explosives and handle jets (while) working out of the loading area. That is something we always look forward to, because as an east coast squadron we don’t get to do that as often as we’d like to.”
Classified as an all-weather unit, the Bengals’ Hornets are equipped to fly day or night in heavy rain and wind in order to destroy surface targets. The Marines also practiced counter measure techniques and dropping laser guided bombs.
“During our support with (1st Bn., 3rd Marines), we dropped ordnance anywhere between 500 pounds to 1,000 pounds of high explosive rockets,” said Sgt. Derrick O’Neill, day crew ordnance supervisor, and a 22-year-old native of Belcamp, Md. “We don’t get to do a lot of high explosives training, so this exercise has been a big deal for us.”
Through the exercise, the Bengals operated for 13 continuous days with two separate crews working around the clock.
“Our day crew put in 14 hours a day while our night crew put 11 hours, so it’s been rough on everyone,” O’Neill explained. “That’s expected on a deployment, though. When we leave for Iwakuni, we won’t have the same assets available as we do here, so we have to get in as much training as we can.”
Roberts also added, “The Marines did a phenomenal job with the continuous training we had going on, and that’s not a tempo we usually entertain back home. I know it put a lot of stress on some people, but they pulled it off nicely.”
As 1st Bn., 3rd Marines concludes Exercise Lava Viper, the Bengals will join several units in Iwakuni, Japan, and continue their deployment before returning to MCAS Kaneohe Bay, and eventually, home to MCAS Beaufort.
“Being around other aircraft always presents a unique set of challenges when operating in a new airfield,” Roberts said. “But it’s something we enjoy because this is what we signed up to do.”