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News > Marine F-35B squadron carries out centuries-old ceremonial heritage
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Final salute
Lt. Col. James Wellons gives his final salute to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 501 during the squadron’s change of command ceremony Feb. 3 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Wellons helped stand the squadron up in April 2010. It currently has approximately 89 Marines here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
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Marine F-35B squadron carries out centuries-old ceremonial heritage

Posted 2/7/2012   Updated 2/7/2012 Email story   Print story


by Maj. Karen Roganov
Team Eglin Public Affairs

2/7/2012 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Marine Corps has geared up for battle since its inception 237 years ago and this warrior spirit is still evidenced in their military ceremonies.

Some 89 members from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 at the 33rd Fighter Wing displayed remnants of battlefield procedures from years bygone through dress and ceremonial actions during a change of command, here, Feb. 3.

"Before being an administrator, an aviator or wrench turner, we are a warfighting unit," said Sgt. Maj. David Stocks, the squadron's top enlisted member and the person who ensures continuity of Marine Corps customs for the squadron. "These are traditional ceremonial elements that would happen before a unit would go off to battle."

Such elements included formation of the troops online, assembling of the command staff and officer center as well as a pass and review by columns of marching Marines past the outgoing and incoming commander.

Before taking the hill as the Marines are infamous for, a junior commander would come forward from the formation of troops under his command and present himself to the senior officer for any final exchanges of information, according to Stocks, who taught and orchestrated the ceremonial performance.

"It's a carry-over from Roman times," he said. Detailed instructions about "attack the right flank" might be relayed.

While there was no battle at hand during the change of command ceremony, the two platoons of Marines did look the part as they wore the camouflage uniform along with a web belt and field gear instead of a more formal dress uniform typically seen at an Air Force ceremony.

This signifies the battle stance of being "a rifleman first," said Stocks.

This rifleman-first mentality starts early. And for the most junior-ranking person in formation, her confident battle march past about 200 spectators including three general officers, media, community leaders and 33rd Fighter Wing members from three branches of service unfolded as expected.

"I'm fresh out of boot camp, so it's all fresh in my mind," said Private 1st Class Roselyn Payano, an administrator in aviation maintenance for the squadron.

She used her boot camp knowledge to pass on newly-learned techniques to others during practice to help meld the steps of the taller Marines marching in the front of the columns with those of the troops placed in the rears.

"If those in the front were to half step, while those in the back were to take normal steps, it would even out," she said.

Apparently, it worked as the formation squarely planted their left feet to the deck with the sounding drum beats by the 31-piece ceremonial band from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

And the spit-polished clean look of the brass instruments and the two pristine Navy and Marine Corps aircraft hangars where the ceremony was held were yet more indicators of Marine Corps heritage.

"We spend three days out of the week doing general clean-up," said Cpl. Martez McDuffie, embarkation specialist, which is the term for a logistics professional. "We have silent rules where we sweep, take-out the trash and clean desks."

There was nothing silent about the day prior to the ceremony, which happened to be a Thursday. This is the declared day Marine Corps, across the globe from E-5 and below, spend time with "field day," and in-depth cleaning.

For VMFAT-501, this included forming up for roll call, dispersing for the white glove treatment and "boxing it up again" into a formation for the inspection by Stocks, and the maintenance and operations chiefs.

With the inspection of the hangars and adjacent office spaces passed, McDuffie and the other Marines put the final touches into preparing for the ceremony like prominently displaying the 50-state flags and unfurling the guidon flag.

Again, Marine Corps heritage took precedence as the guidon flag was adorned with streamers representing battles engaged in since 1944, the VMFAT-501's inception.

Finally, with the very first VMFAT-501 change of command ceremony at Eglin for the F-35B unit, a good first impression needed to be made.

"I was overwhelmed and thought the ceremony was exceptional," said Lt. Col. David Berke, the squadron's new commander. "They hit the sequence perfectly, looked and sounded good, and did justice to long-standing Marine Corps tradition."

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