Military Aviation

VMFA-225 CO fired for making Low-Level Pass during Unit’s F/A-18D Sundown Ceremony

VMFA-225 is currently making the transition from the F/A-18D Hornet to using the USMC new vertical takeoff fighter, the F-35B Lightning II.

Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone, the commanding officer (CO) of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 (VMFA-225), has been fired on Jan. 24, 2020 for making a low-level flypast during the unit’s sundown ceremony of the F/A-18D.

An anonymous source told Marine Corps Times that the flight was lower and faster than was approved in the flight plan.

On Jan. 23, the squadron held a retirement ceremony marking the squadron’s final official flight for the two-seat F/A-18D it has flown since it was re-established in 1991.

VMFA-225 is currently making the transition from the F/A-18D Hornet to using the USMC new vertical takeoff fighter, the F-35B Lightning II.

Marines and families of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, watch as the F/A-18 Hornet and F-35 Lightning II fly overhead during a Sundown Ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Jan. 23, 2019.

The Marine Corps initially published material from the event on DVIDS, but has since taken down its coverage.

Marine Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Fredrick Walker told Marine Corps Times in a Thursday email that “The relief came as a surprise from an otherwise exceptionally performing commander with a long and distinguished career.”

“It is a necessity to enforce standards and is vital that 3rd MAW provides strong and effective leadership to promote operational excellence, trust, and combat readiness,” he said.

Walker added that to complete some of the remaining “sundown” tasks for the squadron, an officer-in-charge has been assigned to the unit. However, he did not say who the officer-in-charge is.

“The outgoing commander’s relief should not detract from his accomplishments and outstanding performance in both the operational and supporting establishments,” Walker said in the statement.

A U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, is sprayed with water, a Marine Corps’ tradition that signifies an aircraft’s or individual’s last flight, during a Sundown Ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Jan. 23, 2019.

According to his official Marine Corps biography on the unit’s site, Lt. Col. Featherstone was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer in 1999 and took over VMFA-225 in April 19, 2019.

Featherstone’s awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Korean Defense Medal, the Outstanding Volunteer Medal, and seven Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.

VMFA-225 known as the “Vikings”, is based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3d MAW).

The unit was the first Marine Corps fighter squadron deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The squadron was deployed in January 2003 from its home base at MCAS Miramar to Ahmed Al Jabar Air Base in Kuwait. From Kuwait, the “Vikings” took part in Operation Southern Watch, assisting the US Air Force in patrolling the Southern No-Fly-Zone set up by the United Nations in Iraq. In March 2003, VMFA-225 began flying combat sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Joining 225 were other members of Marine Aircraft Group 11.VMFA-225 also deployed in support of OIF in 2007-2008 at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq.

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, retire the colors during a Sundown Ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Jan. 23, 2019. VMFA-225 held the Sundown Ceremony to retire the F/A-18 Hornet from their ranks and introduce the F-35B Lightning II as their new aircraft.

Photo credit: Tomás Del Coro via Wikipedia and Cpl. Levi J. Guerra / U.S. Marine Corps

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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