Air show, anniversaries highlight 2016

One of the biggest events in Cherry Point’s history took place in 2016 as the base hosted the Cherry Point Air Show April 29 to May 1.

The event drew 200,000 people, according to base officials, including 95,000 on Saturday. The huge crowd caused a 10- to 12-mile traffic jam on U.S. 70 west of Havelock. Base officials had set aside one of its 8,000-foot runways suitable for landing the space shuttle for parking, but the area proved not enough for the demand, and other parking areas had to be made available.

The highlight of the show was a flight demonstration by the Navy Blue Angels, who were returning to the base to fly for the first time since 2012. The event featured plenty of military demonstrations and stunt pilots, along with displays of aircraft on the ground. A Saturday afternoon concert featured country artist Jon Pardi.

While the air show stood on its own, it also featured an official ceremony marking the deactivation of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1, the first of Cherry Point’s four Prowler squadrons that is scheduled to deactivate as the Marine Corps moves away from using the aging aircraft.

The air show also celebrated the 75th anniversaries of Cherry Point and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Base anniversary

Cherry Point and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing celebrated 75 years in 2016.

The base, established on Aug. 18, 1941, played a vital role in helping the United States and its allies win World War II. The 2nd MAW was established in July of 1941 in San Diego and moved permanently to Cherry Point in April of 1946.

On Aug. 18, the base and the wing joined at Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252’s hangar for an anniversary ceremony. Streamers representing the many 2nd MAW campaigns around the world were attached to the wing colors by notable veterans from World War II to active-duty Marines involved in current conflicts. James Cunningham, the grand-nephew of first Marine pilot Alfred A. Cunningham, attended the event and presented memorabilia to the station, which was originally named Cunningham Field.

Cherry Point and the Fleet Readiness Center East contribute about $2 billion to the state’s economy.

Changes at the top

The year 2016 featured plenty of changes in leadership at Cherry Point, as the base commanding officer, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding officer, and the 2nd MAW sergeant major all changed hands.

On June 9, Brig. Gen. Matthew G. Glavy became the commanding general of the 2nd MAW in a ceremony at Cherry Point. He replaced Maj. Gen. Gary L. Thomas, who took command of the wing on Aug. 7, 2015, and moved on to a leadership role at the Pentagon.

Glavy, a former helicopter pilot at New River during the late 1980s and early 1990s, was the former deputy director of future operations at United States Cyber Command.

On July 28, Col. Todd W. Ferry became the new commanding officer of Cherry Point, replacing Col. Chris Pappas III.

Ferry is a former helicopter pilot as well as a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Pappas, the base commander since 2013, moved on to become chief of staff for Marine Corps Combat Development Command and executive assistant to the deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration in Quantico, Va.

On Dec. 8, Sgt. Maj. Howard Kreamer became the sergeant major of the 2nd MAW, replacing Sgt. Maj. Richard Thresher during a ceremony on base.

Kreamer had most recently served as the sergeant major of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, where he said he had a chance to observe 2nd MAW training and operations, calling them impressive.

Thresher moved on to become the sergeant major of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

Prowlers’ final flight

EA-6B Prowlers from each of the four electronic warfare squadrons at Cherry Point joined together for a historic flight on March 1.

The airplanes flew over the base in a rare division formation and in a diamond formation, marking the last time Prowlers from Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1, VMAQ-2, VMAQ-3 and VMAQ-4 would fly together.

The flight was in recognition of the deactivation of VMAQT-1. The colors for the squadron were sheathed at the beginning of the Cherry Point Air Show on April 29.

VMAQT-1 is the first of four electronic warfare squadrons to deactivate at Cherry Point. VMAQ-2, VMAQ-3, and VMAQ-4 are scheduled to stand down in the coming three years, marking an end to Cherry Point’s piloted electronic warfare mission.

Marine Corps electronic warfare, in which aircraft are used to pinpoint, disrupt and in some cases destroy enemy radar, dates back to before the Korean War of the early 1950s. The Marine Corps is changing its approach to electronic warfare and will soon use drones and other aircraft for missions. The Navy will still operate EA-6B Prowlers in electronic warfare role.

Medal of Honor

In a special ceremony, the Halyburton Naval Health Clinic at Cherry Point accepted a donation of a Medal of Honor presented to the facility’s namesake, Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class William D. Halyburton, on May 27.

Marian Halyburton Rousse, Halyburton’s sister in-law, and Porter A. Halyburton, his cousin, came to Cherry Point for the ceremony.

Halyburton, a corpsman from Wilmington, died on May 10, 1945, as he treated an injured Marine during a battle on Okinawa during World War II.

The ceremony, just a few days before Memorial Day, also featured members of the band from New Hanover High School, from where Halyburton graduated.

Halyburton was one of 1,170 Navy corpsmen killed during World War II and one of seven to receive the Medal of Honor.

VMAQ-4 in Turkey

Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4 returned to Cherry Point on Oct. 15 from what likely will be its last deployment before the squadron is deactivated in June of 2017.

About 120 Marines from the squadron came home late into the evening after spending six months in Turkey at Incirlik Air Base in support of operations against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

While the squadron was deployed, the Turkish government held off an attempted coup, which left the Marines without power and air-conditioning for about a week. However, the squadron brought in generators to maintain vital communication and other necessities to carry out its mission.

Aviation plan

The Marine Corps released its 2016 Aviation Plan that calls for $1.6 billion in investments and construction for Cherry Point through 2027.

The plan, submitted by the deputy commandant for aviation, calls for projects that in many cases deal with the planned basing of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters at Cherry Point, including the construction of three hangars. Operational squadrons of the fifth-generation jets are expected to begin standing up in 2022 or 2023 at Cherry Point.

Of the funds, $367 million is targeted for Fleet Readiness Center East.

Though the Marine Corps is calling for the construction, congressional approval of all funding is required.

The plan also calls for expanding the base’s role of unmanned aerial systems as well as the possibility of adding an additional training squadron that would include a fleet of planes and pilots to help train Marine pilots in air-to-air combat.

Harrier crash

A Cherry Point-based AV-8B Harrier crashed off the southeast coast of North Carolina on May 6.

The jet, from Marine Attack Squadron 542, went down around 5 p.m. about two miles off the coast of Wrightsville Beach. The pilot, whose name has not been released, ejected from the plane and was rescued from the water about 30 minutes after the crash. He was taken to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune where he was treated and released to continue recovery at his home.

The pilot had just taken off from Wilmington International Airport and was conducting flight training at the time of the crash. The pilot was training with the USS Wasp in support of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, with a report expected to be released in February. The crash was labeled a Class A mishap, meaning there was more than $2 million in damage.

The aircraft sat at the bottom of the ocean for just more than a month. Salvage operations were completed on June 21 as the jet was removed from the sea.

UAV contract

Cherry Point received about one-third of a $10 million contract to broaden the base’s unmanned aerial vehicle mission in 2016.

The company Insitu Inc. of Bingen, Wash., was awarded the contract in support of the RQ-21A Blackjack, which is a new unmanned aircraft system being used at Cherry Point.

Cherry Point received 35 percent of the contract, while the remaining portions went to Yuma, Ariz., Bingen, Wash., and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Cherry Point’s portion will be used by Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 for logistics, training, data reporting and field representative support.