Initially founded as Marine Observation Squadron (VMO) 251 they were re-designated as a fighter unit by the war’s end. In 2001, the Thunderbolts deployed with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 aboard TR and were the first Marine squadron to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom.
“VMFA 251 has a proud history that began at Naval Air Station North Island in 1941 and has brought them around the world to Beaufort, South Carolina, today,” said Navy Capt. Benjamin Hewlett, commander, CVW 1. “The rich history of the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Aviation is embodied in the Thunderbolts.”
Lt. Col. Nicholas O. Neimer received the unit flag when he relieved Lt. Col. Joshua A. Riggs as the Thunderbolts commanding officer, May 31, 2015.
“This is exactly what I expected out of this job,” said Riggs during the change of command ceremony. “I am torn in half leaving the team, but at the same time I know you are in great hands not only with my relief but with the whole staff top to bottom. Our leadership is ready to hit this thing out of the park and see it through to the end.”
The Thunderbolts powered through the workup cycle and into deployment flying sorties and training alongside the other squadrons embarked aboard TR.
“I joined the squadron roughly a year ago and I have had the privilege to observe these Marines through their workups and eventually deployment,” said Neimer.
“I have served with many Marine units in my 18 years and I can say, with authority, that some of the best Marines I have served with are [in VMFA 251] and they will continue to effectively and safely complete the mission as they have for the last year.”
While a lot of work is done in maintenance and preparation, the real excitement of the job comes from launching jets from TR’s flight deck at speeds exceeding 100 MPH.
“I would explain my job as being a football player about to go through the tunnel onto the field for the Super Bowl every night,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Hopkins. “On night crew, you go out on the flight deck to relieve day crew, and almost immediately go to work launching and recovering aircraft. Imagine that you are thrown into the most intense aspect of this job ten minutes after coming into work, at night.”
The Thunderbolts operate the F/A-18C Hornet, an earlier model of the successful airframe.
“VMFA 251 is a group of highly motivated individuals who have been called to action by their country and we are here to get it on,” said Master Sgt. James Walker. “It has taken a lot of work and sacrifice to get where we are today and even though we fly an older model of airframe, the Hornet, we are no less ready to tackle our mission than our fellow squadrons.”
A noncommissioned officer, or NCO, is an enlisted person who provides frontline leadership for their fellow Marines.
“The NCOs of VMFA 251 are the backbone of this unit,” said Riggs. “They are the workhorses that make miracles happen on a daily basis and keep this squadron functioning to accomplish our mission day in and day out. They do it while training our young Marines, and they are the embodiment of our core values of honor, courage, and commitment.”
The highly-trained Marines of VMFA 251 are top-notch multi-taskers who have wide-ranging skill sets required to execute their mission.
“The Marines wear a lot of hats. For instance, you can compare us side-by-side to one of the other squadrons aboard and they will have about 50 more people than we do, and we are still considered full strength,” said Hopkins. “That means that our Marines need to be more adaptable and fill the roles that would be filled by more people.”
Heritage and tradition are as embedded in the Marine Corps as in the Navy, and a sense of pride is an ever-present part of the Marines’ lives.
“We are a proud branch and our pride is instilled from day one and we never want to lose it,” said Walker. “You could take any individual Marine and at the heart of their reasoning for joining it is that they are proud to serve their country.”
Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG), which is composed of Carrier Strike Group 12, Carrier Air Wing 1, Destroyer Squadron 2 staff, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), USS Farragut (DDG 99) and USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98).
Roosevelt is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the region.
For more news from USS Theodore Roosevelt, visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn71/.