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U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jack Gregory, collateral duty inspector assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 311 (VMFA), Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, signals to a pilot at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 16, 2024. Marines and aircraft from VMFA-311 traveled to Tyndall to participate in Checkered Flag 24-2, a large-force aerial exercise designed to integrate 4th and 5th-generation airframes to enhance mobility, deployment and employment capabilities of aviators and maintainers. The 24-2 iteration of the exercise was held May 9-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Nordheim)

Photo by Senior Airman Zachary Nordheim

VMFA-311 demonstrates joint operations in CKF 24-2

22 May 2024 | Senior Airman Zachary Nordheim 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

In an era of Great Power Competition, the ability to conduct low-intensity operations without compromising high-intensity readiness remains vital. Tyndall continues to generate this readiness and capabilities internally and alongside joint and coalition forces through the use of Checkered Flag, one of the Department of Defense’s largest air-to-air exercises.

U.S. Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 311, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, an F-35C Lightning II squadron based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, had the opportunity to train and focus on a variety of skills demanded for wartime operational mission readiness and the deliverance of decisive combat airpower with rapid response.

“We are currently in the progress of standing up our squadron, so having the ability to come participate with units from across other branches, like the Air Force and Navy, is something that we don’t get to experience out in Miramar,” said Maj. Timothy Potter, a pilot training officer with VMFA-311. “The opportunity of training with aircraft ranging from F-22 Raptors, F-35 Lighting IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15E Strike Eagles and EA-18G Growlers allows us to learn the pros and cons of each aircraft and teaches us how we can work together to fight the next fight.”

The benefit of Checkered Flag also extends past the integration of 4th and 5th-generation aircraft. The teams of Marines who maintain and launch these aircraft have the ability to test and develop their capabilities and build confidence in multi-platform interoperability.

“Checkered Flag has been great practice for getting into a deployment like mindset. It tests our logistics, our supply chain, and our ability to operate in a stressful environment to make the mission happen,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Cofield, a maintenance control chief with VMFA-311. “Something we participated with is exchanging one of our maintenance controllers with the 95th Fighter [Generation] Squadron. So now we’re learning how the Air Force does business and in return, they get to learn how we do business. This way, if we’re ever in a location where there are F-35s, or Air Force, or Navy, we can all be on the same page and share equipment, tools, qualifications and experiences like that.”

Aircraft participating in Checkered Flag 24-2 were also involved with Weapons System Evaluation Program East 24.08, the Air Force’s joint program to test air-to-air and air-to-ground live fire weapons employment for combat aviators. The combination of both exercises saves resources and provides a unique training battlefield for a variety of aircraft and support personnel from across the U.S. military.

“I think the most valuable thing we’ve received is being able to get exposure to our junior and even senior pilots to a large-force exercise which is extremely beneficial,” said Potter. “In the Marine Corps, we don’t often get the opportunity to experience large-force exercises like this, but out here, we’re getting qualifications, exposure and experience on multiple fronts for everyone in the squadron.”

Through these integrated operations and joint exercise, the VMFA-311 is now capable of taking newly acquired skills, experiences and lessons learned back to their home station to effectively provide combat ready expeditionary aviation forces capable of short notice worldwide deployments.

“Being able to get up and go is what makes us Marines,” said Cofield. “Being tested on packing up and moving our jets, our tools, and equipment is what is important. It’s easy when we’re in the states, but if we’re out island hopping in the Pacific, it becomes imperative that we test our abilities now and have the foresight needed for the bigger picture.”

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