VMFA-142 Cadre Ceremony by Curt Jans
One of the nation’s most decorated aviation units, the "Flying Gators" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 142 (VMFA-142), has entered cadre status. The cadre was driven by the pending closure of Naval Air Station (NAS) Atlanta under the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005. The loss of the Flying Gators has ended the squadron’s nearly 66 years of continuous service. The Gators’ final flight and Cadre Ceremony was held at NAS Atlanta on May 31st, and I was honored to attend.
Cadre status is different from decommissioning. A decommissioned unit is completely shut down and is not expected to return to active status. By contrast, a unit in cadre status is essentially asleep and may awaken in the future to return to active service. For example, VMFA-212 "Lancers" entered cadre status in 2007, but is projected to stand-up again in 2012 once the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter becomes operational.
The Gators’ last day was a typical humid summer day in Atlanta under hazy and partly cloudy skies. By the 31st, only four Hornets remained at NAS Atlanta, all A or A+ models: 162400/MB-200 (the CO’s plane), 162433/MB-202, 162875/MB-208, and 163131/MB-209. Lt Col Farris, the Commanding Officer of VMFA-142, led the ceremonial final flight in MB-200, followed by Lt Col Baumert in MB-202 and Col Blalock in MB-209. The three-ship departed on schedule at 15:00 EDT, and as my bad luck would have it the sun was behind a nice thick cloud. They returned a little early at 15:45, and again the sun ducked behind the clouds. After landing, the clouds thinned out quite a bit and the lighting improved.
As they taxied in, each pilot and plane received a water cannon salute, and shortly after parking on the ramp Lt Col Farris received the Meritorious Service Medal. Lt Col Silvester, the Executive Officer of Marine Aircraft Group 42 (and former Gator OIC), announced the award, while BGen Bircher, Commanding General of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing and Col Hardison, Commanding Officer of MAG-42, presented the medal.
After final post-flight checks, ground crews moved two of the planes into the hanger and positioned the other two outside, flanking the ceremony area. As final preparations for the ceremony continued and the crowd began to build, I took the opportunity to snap a few static photos.
At 18:00, the Cadre Ceremony began with the squadron personnel and the United States Marine Corps Band marching onto the ramp. After an Invocation and Honors to the Color Guard, BGen Bircher and Lt Col Farris both spoke about the history of the Flying Gators and the reasons for cadre.
Lt Col Farris and Sgt Maj Davis retired the colors before a silent crowd of 200. Although the retiring of the flags is symbolic, watching as the United States flag was encased in a camouflage sheath was particularly solemn; it was certainly a sight that has stuck with me. After the red squadron flag was encased, and just prior to dismissal of the squadron, the Marine Corps band played a final song that was punctuated by a lone trumpeter playing Auld Lang Syne.
As the sun set on the Flying Gators, the evening ended with a hangar party complete with two Hornets on display and a live-band playing classic rock. Unfortunately, a potential stand-up date for VMFA-142, the Flying Gators, has not been identified at this time.
I would like to thank Lt Col Farris, Maj Milne and particularly Lt Col Kyle Glerum for their support before and during my visit.