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210219-N-JX182-1148 PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 19, 2021) An F/A-18C Hornet, from the “Death Rattlers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, launches off the flight deck of the USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz, flagship of Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, is currently conducting routine operations in U.S. Third Fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles DeParlier/Released)

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing’s “Death Rattlers” return from historic deployment

26 Feb 2021 | Cpl. Leilani Cervantes 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The Death Rattlers of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323 return from a 10-month deployment, making history as the last F/A-18 Hornet carrier deployment in the U.S. Marine Corps.

VMFA-323 now prepares to fly the F-35B Lightning II.

In line with the Marine Corps Force Design 2030, transitioning to the F-35 increases the lethality of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), as both F-35 variants provide unprecedented stealth capabilities and flexibility due to their ability to operate from conventional aircraft carriers and land bases. Furthermore, the F-35 will provide the Marine Air-Ground Task Force strategic agility, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy in a high-end conflict.

The Death Rattlers’ final F/A-18 carrier deployment supported Carrier Air Wing 17 (CVW-17) on the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), where they conducted operations alongside U.S. 5th and 7th Fleets. VMFA-323 contributed to more than 35,000 flight hours, 14,000 missions supporting tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel and landings, and employment of nearly 250,000 rounds of ammunition while part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group.

The historical deployment will culminate in one last F/A-18 carrier fly-off for the Death Rattlers, scheduled to arrive at MCAS Miramar Feb. 25.

3rd MAW assets have extend aboard L-class amphibious ships with F-35Bs supporting combat operations in 5th Fleet, including Operation Inherent Resolve in 2018. Additionally, 3rd MAW aircraft will serve aboard partner nation carriers such as HMS Queen Elizabeth supporting the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21 mission this summer. Commitment to aviation modernization will continue when the F-35s of VMFA-314 deploy with CVW-9 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN- 72).

VMFA-323 has an illustrious history and a storied legacy of integrating with the Navy and its aircraft carriers. In 1944, the Death Rattlers made its first deployment in the F4U-1D Corsair to the South Pacific, where they supported Operation Iceberg from Kadena Airfield in Okinawa, Japan, under the command of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. In 1946, VMFA-323 began their first of many preparations for aircraft carrier operations, and during the Korean War, supported the 1st Marine Division engaged at the fabled Chosin Reservoir during their first carrier deployment with the F-4U-4B Corsair from the flight deck of the USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116).

Throughout the following decades, VMFA-323 integrated with Navy carrier air wings and operated from the flight decks of aircraft carriers in every model of aircraft they operated. In September 1982, VMFA-323 retired its last F-4 Phantom and officially began the transition to the world’s foremost strike fighter, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet. In November 1985, the Death Rattlers deployed on

the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) while assigned to CVW-13, which was the first carrier air wing to deploy with Marine F/A-18s. Nearly 35 years after their first carrier deployment in the Hornet, VMFA-323 made history once again while deployed with CVW-17 as the last legacy Hornet squadron to integrate with a carrier air wing.

3rd MAW continues to "Fix, Fly and Fight" as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing, and remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.


3rd Marine Aircraft Wing