Moonlighters Take the Prize


Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 "Moonlighters" flying Boeing F/A-18D Hornets out of Beaufort, S.C., has won the Corps' annual prize for best fighter squadron, beating out 16 other Hornet units, Marine Corps News reports:

The Moonlighters' list of achievements is beyond compare, and includes becoming the first Marine tactical jet squadron ever to surpass 100,000 mishap-free flight hours in 2005. While deployed to Camp Al Asad, Iraq, from July 2005 to January they continued to build upon this record.
176439815_57ec1057b4.jpgI was embedded with 332 during their stint in Iraq, and I can vouch: they really are the best. Over Al Anbar province they flew dangerous missions at low level dropping bombs and firing guns to rescue Marines from tight spots. Just a couple weeks back I got an email from one Marine who begged me to help him get in touch with the unit. He had been one of their "customers" in Iraq and was convinced the Moonlighters had saved his life.But there's more to the story than the Marine Corps public affairs machine allows. Due to a shortage of airframes and delays to the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning (formerly Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF), 332 is decommissioning in March 2007, as I reported in National Defense Magazine:
Obviously [JSF introduction] is a moving target, but it has slid to the right [past 2010], [Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marc] Preston says. Every time it slides, it affects Marine aircraft more than it affects Navy. Their issues are a little harder than ours because the Navy bought [Super Hornets] and Marines didnt with anticipation that the JSF would be on time.
That little article got a lot of people riled up -- especially a couple of retired Marine generals too old and grumpy to play politics and too much in love with Marines to just sit back and watch Corps aviation waste away. Here, an excerpt from the least profane of these generals' missives:
It looks to me as though the architects of the disastrous [plan], the overly ambitious "always faithful" rotorheads and Harrier mafia -- who these days dominate Marine aviation and are always sucking up to the Marine grunt-dominated selection boards professing that their monumental vision of "vertical" was always the coziest, closest possible air support, the grunt's ace in the hole, just a snap of the fingers away over there hiding behind the hill ready to strike at any time, and in the infantry's very best and only interest -- are now frantically talking to themselves!
In other words, the brass in charge of Corps aviation are too close to the problem to see it clearly ... and to care. And the problem is that Marine Corps aviation has put all its eggs in the F-35 basket. Now the basket is late and getting later while the demand for eggs keeps on rising.--David Axe
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