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Warlords return to Fightertown

July 16, 2014 (by Cpl. John Wilkes) - Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, July 11, and with it, the future of Marine Corps aviation.

Lt. Col. Joseph Bachmann, commanding officer, VMFAT-501, MCAS Beaufort, lands the first F-35B Lightning II #168057 that will call Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina home on July 17, 2014. [USMC photo by Cpl. Aneshea S. Yee]

"July 11, 2014, marks the homecoming of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 to the Lowcountry, after spending a couple years located at Eglin Air Force Base,” said Col. Peter Buck, the commanding officer of MCAS Beaufort.

“We have a strong relationship with Beaufort and the surrounding communities that has existed for over 71 years,” said Buck. “From our roots of training for anti-submarine patrols during World War II to now as we welcome this squadron that's responsible for flying the nation's fifth-generation, dominant aircraft, we're fortunate to have the support of what we consider to be one of the most military-friendly communities in the nation.”

The beginnings of VMFAT-501 can be traced back to 1944, when it was activated as Marine Fighting Squadron 451, also known as the Blue Devils. During this time the squadron was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Mojave, Calif. The squadron saw action during World War II and was later deactivated.

In 1946, the Fightin’ Phillies, as they were known then, were reactivated as a reserve unit at Naval Air Station Willow Grove, Pa., and flew the F6F Hellcat. When the Korean War began, the unit was called to active duty and flew the F9F Panther. VMF-451 was relocated to MCAS El Toro, and remained there until Feb. 1, 1963, when they relocated to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

While aboard MCAS Beaufort, the Warlords deployed multiple times in support of various operations around the world. During this time, the Warlords set a safety record of 29,000 accident-free hours in the F4 Phantom. In 1987, the squadron upgraded to the F/A-18 Hornet, a variant of which is flown today.

In 1990, VMFA-451 deployed to Bahrain in support of Operation Desert Shield. In 1991, the Warlords became the first Marine squadron to attack Iraqi forces in Operation Desert Storm. They ended the operation with over 700 combat sorties and 1,400 combat hours.

VMFA-451 spent the remaining years leading up to deactivation at MCAS Beaufort participating in various exercises around the world. They returned from a deployment to the Western Pacific in July 1996 winding down a 57-year history as they deactivated on Jan. 31, 1997.

The squadron was reactivated in April 2010 and designated as a training squadron. After four years of training with the F-35B Lightning II, the squadron returned to MCAS Beaufort.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B variant replaces and performs the roles of three legacy aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier II and EA-6B Prowler.

"It's much more important that we welcome the people that make that airplane fly back to Beaufort," said Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commanding general of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. "It's not about the incredible airplane, it's about the incredible people that make that airplane fly and [VMFAT-501] throughout their history, and certainly most recently, truly are incredible people."

The integration of the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into the Marine Corps' arsenal provides the dominant, multi-role, fifth-generation capabilities needed across the full spectrum of combat operations to deter potential adversaries and enable future naval aviation power projection.

Courtesy of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

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Additional images:

Lt. Col. Joseph Bachmann (far left), commanding officer, VMFAT-501, MCAS Beaufort, takes a group photo with his crew after landing the first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to call MCAS Beaufort home, July 17, 2014. The arrival of the F-35B marks the official homecoming of the Warlords to MCAS Beaufort. [USMC photo by Cpl. Aneshea S. Yee]

The first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter assigned to VMFAT-501 arrived at MCAS Beaufort, on July 17, 2014. The aircraft is the first to join VMFAT-501 at MCAS Beaufort since relocating from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will replace the Marine Corps' aging legacy tactical fleet. [Photo by Cpl. John Wilkes]