2018 Texan Cowboys
Just West of Dallas at Naval Air Station - Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth the only USMC F/A-18 reserve squadron is based. Frank Visser visited Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112 to see how the Cowboys cope with all the challenges.
In between transition
Nowadays Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112 is the only F/A-18 reserve unit within the United States Marine Corps that flies the F/A-18A++ and B model. VMFA-112 is under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 41 and the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing and there task lies in the Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground role. Commanding Officer of the 'Cowboys' is Lieutenant Colonel Clint J. Weber and Active Duty Officer-In-Charge is Major Brian J. Sullivan. Because the Commanding Officer is
always a reservist, leading the squadron daily is in the hands of the Active Duty Officer. Major Brian J. Sullivan: "My role is unique, with a high responsibility for an aviation major, but I make the decisions that are best for the squadron while I am in this seat." He started his work with the 'Cowboys' as a maintenance officer. "I think every future Active Duty Officer-In-Charge should have maintenance officer experience. You do need to have the prospective of what maintenance does. Especially with the old aircraft we use. It helped me to double the amount of serverable aircraft."
The squadron has around 12 F/A-18A++ and 5 F/A-18Bs stationed at NAS JRB Fort Worth, although the amount of aircraft in their inventory is much larger. The other aircraft are stored in depots all over the country and used for spare parts.
Around 20 pilots of which two thirds are reservist are commissioned to VMFA-112.
For maintenance some 50 men and women are active compared to around 100 reservists. For example an operational squadron has around 200 maintainers and newer aircraft.
One of the few active pilots within VMFA-112 is Major Michel Reid. He said: "We fly quite a lot. Every active pilot within this squadron flies around 150 to 200 or more hours a year and that’s more than an active fleet squadron pilot achieves." Normal flying configuration on the F/A-18 consists of two fuel tanks and an AIM-9M or -X Sidewinder on each wing tip. Beside a 20mm gun the aircraft can be loaded with a 4th generation Advanced Targeting Pod and a variety of bombs like the GBU-10, -12, -16, -24, -31, -38 etc., and for dropping ordnance Texas ranges near Sheppard AFB and Dyess AFB are used. Only during drill weekends, which is one weekend per month and twice a week per year, and during deployments the squadron is complete. Being a reservist has an advantage. You can be in the military for many years to come and start your second career outside the military, still serving your country. Another advantage is the years of experience reservists bring to a squadron.
The Cowboys look forward
Not only are the 'Cowboys' of VMFA-112 looking forward to receiving the newer C+ model, they
are also busy preparing the next deployment, which will probably take place next year and take them either to the Middle East or the Far East. Normally the squadron is deployed ever five years and since their last deployment in 2014 the squadron is ready for it. Major Brian J. Sullivan: "A couple of months prior to the deployment we receive a deployment order. We then start working up following
a time frame." Especially the young guys but also the experienced reservists are looking forward to being deployed overseas. For the squadron a deployment also helps the young guys gain experience and for the reservists practice procedures. Another benefit of a deployment, which normally consists of 10 to 12 aircraft, is that funding’s are better and more parts are available. This increases the serverability of the aircraft, which is normally around 50%. This will also be the first and last deployment in which the squadron will operate both the C+ and A++ model.
Major Brian J. Sullivan: " I’m looking forward to flying the F/A-18C+ but the F/A-18A++ is a great aircraft. I like to think of these aircraft as 'classic' rather than 'old." Although VMFA-112 will fly the F/A-18 for the next decade its successor is already known. The Lockheed Martin F-35B is planned to enter service with VMFA-112 in 2028, but as the production level now is gaining progress this could be sooner. The infrastructure at NAS JRB Fort Worth has to be changed and planning is already underway. Clearly the 'Wolves' are an exceptional and unique squadron. Their devotion to keeping the oldest 'Hornets' in the USMC serverable with less budget than active squadrons receive is remarkable.