HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii — Marines of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 arrived at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii in support of Lava Viper 11.1 Jan. 16.
Lava viper is a bi-annual, pre-Afghanistan deployment exercise implemented to establish unit cohesion and squadron readiness in a forward deployed environment.
The mission of the exercise is to provide close air support to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines while simultaneously enhancing and sustaining Marine Aircraft Group 24’s combat readiness, war-fighting capabilities, and competencies.
“Our main goal is just to provide 3rd Marines with a professional fixed-wing platform so they can get the best training possible,” said Capt. Seth Byrum, VMFA(AW)-533 F/A- 18D Hornet pilot. “When (3rd Marines) get deployed, they will know what to expect out of (Tactical Air Command) and they will be the best prepared.”
Once the jets landed, the primary focus of VMFA(AW)-533 was to perform maintenance checks on the birds in order to prepare for the tedious flight schedules to come.
The squadron split its force in half to allow six jets to advance to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan in support of the Unit Deployment Program.
The Unit Deployment Program is a program implemented to allow units to deploy to various locations throughout the Western Pacific and participate in exercises with international allied forces.
Meanwhile, six of the squadron’s most operationally ready jets were kept behind to participate in the exercise.
According to 2nd Lt. John Koch, MAG-24 adjutant, VMFA(AW)-533’s participation in the exercise was vital to the accomplishment of the mission.
“MAG-24 was very adamant that the fixed-wing assets were a necessity,” said Koch. “If we’re going to do this exercise, we’re going to get the maximum benefit out of it by getting everyone involved.”
In order for 3rd Marines to take full advantage of every training opportunity available to them, the exercise would simply demand VMFA(AW)- 533’s expertise and close air support capabilities.
“We want to make sure our Marines and sailors in MAG-24 are understanding the necessity of every principle that has been set for this exercise,” said Koch. “Not only do the Marines need to see that we are supporting the infantry, but at the end of the day, they’re getting real world, deployed environment training.”
According to Cpl. Denon Cammatao, aircraft communication, navigation and weapon systems technician with VMFA(AW)-533, splitting the squadron in half brought on the task of delegating its prime skilled Marines to appropriate locations where the squadron would need them most.
These types of exercises aren’t new to Cammatao, however, as he has been with the squadron for nearly three years to date.
According to Cammatao, it’s all about showing the new guys the ropes and how to take care of the job under various circumstances.
“I’m mainly looking forward to working with the new Marines and seeing how they improve in a more intense environment,” said Cammatao.
After VMFA(AW)-533 has wrapped up training and operations, the Hornet squadron has a long deployment ahead of it with many goals in mind.
“We’re looking forward to getting more experience and more flight time as we support the UDP and MAG-12 operations,” said Bryum.
VMFA(AW)-533 is slated to join their squadron in Iwakuni, Japan for future exercises.