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World War II

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 (VMFA-251), was activated December 1, 1941 at Naval Air Station North Island, California as Marine Observation Squadron 251 (VMO-251). While flying the Grumman F4F Wildcat during World War II, the squadron participated in numerous Pacific campaigns including Guadalcanal, Southern Solomon s, Santa Cruz, Luzon, and the Southern Philippines.

In 1944, the squadron transitioned to the F4U Corsair, and was re-designated Marine Fighter Squadron 251 (VMF-251) in February 1945. VMF-251 continued operations in the South Pacific until May 1, 1945 when it flew its last combat mission of World War II while supporting clean-up operations at Leyte. On June 1, 1945 VMF-251 was deactivated at Samar, Philippines Island. Thirteen months later on July 1 1946, VMF-251 was reactivated at Grosse Ile, Michigan as a ready-reserve squadron.

Korean War

With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, VMF-251 was recalled to active service and directed to transition to the AD4 Skyraider. In late April 1951 the squadron was transferred to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California. With the aircraft transition complete, the squadron was re-designated Marine Attack Squadron 251 (VMA-251) on April 25, 1951. VMA-251 embarked to Korea in June 1953. Although the squadron only saw action the last two weeks of the war, it flew 310 combat sorties totaling more than 550 hours and had the distinction of having the last Marine aircraft engaged in combat during the Korean War on July 27, 1953. VMA-251 remained in Korea for two and a half years providing air defense along the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

In January 1956, the Thunderbolts relocated to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan and remained in the Far East for fifteen months. In 1957, VMA-251 was again relocated to MCAS Miami, Florida flying the FJ4 Fury. With the transition to the FJ4 came the re-designation to VMF-251 on April 20, 1957.

In April 1958 VMF-251 was moved to MCAS El Toro, California to receive its first supersonic fighter the F8U Crusader. The Thunderbolts departed MCAS El Toro for the Pacific carrying with them the motto Custos Caelorum , meaning Guardians of the Sky .

1960s through the 1980s

In 1960, VMF-251 was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 31 (MAG-31) at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. During this period, VMF-251 was the first Marine F-8 squadron to deploy on board an aircraft carrier as part of Carrier Air Wing Ten (CAG-10) on the USS Shangri-la. During the cruise, VMF-251 set the record for the most flight time in one month for a Sixth Fleet based F-8 squadron by flying over 500 hours.

On October 31, 1964, the Thunderbolts became the first Marine squadron in 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing to transition to the F-4 Phantom II and receive its current designation as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 (VMFA-251). The Thunderbolts flew the F-4 in four different models for the next 21 years.

After twenty-one years and 85,000 flight hours, VMFA-251 flew its last F-4S Phantom in November 1985. In January of the following year, the Thunderbolts transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet. The squadron stood up as the sixth Marine F/A-18A squadron the following August and reported full combat ready in March 1987.

The 1990s

From January to April 1994, the Thunderbolts participated in close air support combat missions while deployed to Aviano, Italy supporting Operation Deny Flight in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These missions marked the first combat sorties for a Marine squadron in Europe since World War I.

Global War on Terror

The squadron then deployed onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to the Arabian Sea where it was the first Marine squadron to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The squadron returned to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina in March 2002. In September 2002, the Thunderbolts were presented the Robert M. Hanson Trophy as the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron of the Year .

On February 12, 2003, the squadron deployed to Ahmed Al Jaber Airbase, Kuwait as part of Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). On February 20, 2003, the squadron began flying combat missions in support of Operation Southern Watch and then transitioned to combat operations in support of OIF on March 20, 2003. During the conflict Thunderbolts flew over 650 combat missions over Iraq, accumulating more than 1,200 combat flight hours and dropped more than 7,100 weapons amounting to approximately 832,000 pounds of ordnance. Throughout the deployment maintenance Marines performed over 8,000 maintenance man-hours resulting in a 76% full mission capable rate.

As of October 2006 the squadron is deployed to Al Asad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom

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