A new chapter in Marine Corps electronic warfare aviation started on Friday at Cherry Point, most likely one of the final chapters.
Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 1 transitioned from an operational squadron to a training squadron during a ceremony Friday outside the squadron’s hangar. Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 will carry the new abbreviation VMAQT-1.
“I know I’m not going to get that right for a while,” Lt. Col. Joshua S.K. Gordon, commanding officer, joked in his remarks during the ceremony.
The transition from operational to training squadron comes as the Navy moves from the Prowler to the EA-18G Growler. The move means training responsibilities for air and ground crews with the Prowler shifted to the Marine Corps and Cherry Point from Whidbey Island, Wash.
That training won’t last long. The Marine Corps plans to end use of the Prowler in electronic warfare and deactivate all of Cherry Point’s four Prowler squadrons by 2019.
“You hold the future of the entire Prowler community in your hands now,” Col. Robert B. Sofge, commanding officer of Marine Air Group 14, told Gordon during the ceremony. “You will train what I believe will be the last Prowler pilot and the last Prowler (electronic countermeasures officer). I think that’s important as you look at the history of this magnificent program.”
That history involves crucial missions in Korea, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, during Vietnam, during the first Persian Gulf war and during the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Flying the Prowler, air crews jam enemy radar and thwart efforts of enemy forces on the ground to shoot down Marine attack aircraft such as the AV-8B Harrier and F/A-18 Hornet. Prowler crews have also been known to fly missions in support of Air Force, Navy and Army aircraft.
“It’s a great responsibility. It’s a great opportunity to continue to evolve this program,” Sofge said. “It’s ours now. The Marine Corps’ got it, and we’re very proud.”
During the ceremony, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing band played, and the two platoons of the squadron marched in formation as a pair of Prowlers framed the flightline. Gordon and Sgt. Maj. Charles F. Wright Jr. first covered the flag of VMAQ-1 and then uncovered the new flag of VMAQT-1.
“VMAQT-1 I promise you will continue that rich legacy of what was operational readiness and operational excellence and translate that into providing my fellow commanding officers of VMAQs the best air crews that they can possibly get,” Gordon said.
Capt. Calvin Smallwood came to Cherry Point from Whidbey Island, Wash. He said the Marine Corps needed to take over Prowler training from the Navy to avoid gaps in the electronic warfare mission.
“We can’t afford that,” he said, calling electronic warfare important in protecting pilots and ground forces.
Maj. Julian Flores, training officer for VMAQT-1, said the transition from Navy training to the Marine Corps eliminates time the pilots would spend in aircraft carrier training.
“We’re making it more Marine Corps centric,” Flores said. “The students when they go to their operational squadrons will already have a lot of experience, whereas when they trained at Whidbey Island, Wash., there was a learning curve when they first shipped out to their operational squadrons here at Cherry Point.”
The squadron will grow from five Prowlers to six as part of the transition. The first training crews are expected to arrive at Cherry Point in about a month.
“It’s exciting. It’s a big responsibility,” Flores said. “We’re taking basic air crews and we’re training them to fly the EA-6B Prowler. It’s a big responsibility. We have to teach them to fly it safely and then how to employ it tactically in an operational squadron. It’s a big responsibility, but everyone’s excited.”