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An F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, transits the Pacific Northwest from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 9, 2017, its final destination being MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, to join 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. VMFA-121, originally an F/A-18 squadron, was redesignated as the Marine Corps’ first F-35 squadron in 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens)

Photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens

VMFA-121 makes its maiden voyage to Japan

23 Jan 2017 | by Gunnery Sgt. Christine Polvorosa 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 “Green Knights,” an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, departed Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, marking a momentous occasion with its relocation to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 9.

“It’s been about two years of preparations to move the squadron over to Japan,” said Maj. Michael O’Brien, the operations officer for VMFA-121. “During this phase of the move, we have about 70 Marines from the squadron working to make things run smoothly.”

The F-35B Lightning II fighter jets began their journey from MCAS Yuma to transit the Pacific Northwest with a stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. It was in Alaska that VMFA-121 officially transferred to 1st MAW, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

"It's the first time that any fifth generation fighter unit has moved and been permanently based overseas, specifically in Japan," said O’Brien. "As Marines, we're all about being forward based and having a forward presence, and there's really nothing better than being out there on the leading edges in Asia, in Japan, with our allies."

Since its commissioning as a fighter squadron 62 years ago, on June 24, 1941, the Green Knights have compiled a distinguished history unsurpassed in the annals of Marine Corps aviation.

The squadron has also undergone several re-designations, with the most notable on Nov. 20, 2012 to VMFA-121, and relocations throughout the years. During each era, the squadron has flown a variety of aircraft including F4U Corsairs, F8F Bearcats, AD Skyraiders, Grumman A-6E Intruder, and finally, the F/A-18D Hornet.

Since that time, VMFA-121 has continued to fly various missions and conduct training in order to prepare for real-world operations.

Now, more than 50 years later, VMFA-121 is the first operational F-35B squadron in the Marine Corps, replacing the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler. In 2015, the commandant of the Marine Corps declared VMFA-121’s initial operating capability.

“The type of training we will be conducting will be very similar to that of the F-18 you already see in Iwakuni,” said Lt. Col. James Bardo, the commanding officer of Green Knights. “The opportunity to be in Japan, and as one of the first units to be able to train jointly with our partner services there, is a great honor.”

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