MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Iwakuni, Japan -- Every year there is a fighter attack squadron that stands out among the rest and receives the Robert M. Hanson Award for Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron of the Year.
This year that honor was presented to the Moonlighters of VMFA-332 from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.
"The Hanson Award recognizes the Marine F/A-18 squadron who has made the most significant contribution to Marine aviation and the Corps as a whole," said Maj. Thomas Moore, VMFA-332 executive officer.
The Moonlighters competed against 17 other squadrons but proved their excellence through their actions while completing numerous operations and training missions.
From May 1, 1999 to April 30, 2000, the Moonlighters participated in Operation Allied Force and employed the first combat use of the Advanced Tactical Air Reconnaissance System.
"Hungary and ATARS were two big issues in 1999 and we were there at the right time," said Chief Warrant Officer 2nd class Kelly Silard, avionics officer. Consistency over the year contributed to the Hanson Award he said, as well as doing something for the first time and doing it well.
The Moonlighters completed the award period with a deployment to the Pacific Rim in support of the unit deployment program. Despite the squadrons high tempo and mission readiness, an incredible safety record was maintained with more than 82,000 mishap free flight hours, earning them a second Aviation Safety Award.
The large accomplishments stand out, but there are many smaller things that went into getting the award.
"It's the corporal in Powerline who takes one last look at the jet before he launches it and finds a discrepancy which could have been catastrophic if undetected," Moore said.
The hard work by the members of VMFA-332 is what make the squadron what it is, and they are the ones directly responsible for the award.
"There's no feeling like launching 12 jets, and they all come back not broken, it's motivating," said Lance Cpl. Christopher Fuchs, VMFA-332 plane captain.
Although they have already proven themselves to be highly mobile and ready to do their mission, the pace of the Moonlighters has not slowed. This year's winner of the Hanson Award headed back home Monday after a six month deployment to Iwakuni.
"The Marines and Sailors put in an incredible amount of work, but it wasn't in an effort to win this award; it was in striving to achieve the mission," Moore said. "This award is merely recognition that for one year at least, we did it better than anyone else."