The Marine Corps deactivated its squadron dedicated to training pilots to fly the F/A-18 Hornet, in a step toward transitioning to the F-35 Lightning II.

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 had its sundown ceremony Friday at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, where it is based.

The Marine Corps will still train aviators to fly the F/A-18 jet, but that training will now occur in Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, rather than in a solely training-focused squadron, according to a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing news release Tuesday.

That’s where the SharpSHooters — as Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 are called — will be moved, according to the squadron’s website.

“As a former commanding officer of the ‘SharpSHooters,’ I can attest to the squadron’s direct impact on the Marine Corps’ operational readiness today,” Brig. Gen. Robert Brodie, assistant commander of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said in the release. “VMFAT-101 has shaped a critical element of naval aviation for a half-century, and the Marines and Sailors of the squadron remain pivotal in preserving that warfighting legacy and transitioning to the next generation of combat aviation.”

The Corps is slowly moving away from the older F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers in favor of the higher-tech F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Marines will continue to fly the Hornet until 2030, according to the news release.

The squadron was activated in 1969 to train McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II pilots, according to its website. In the late 1980s, it transitioned from the F-4 to the F/A-18.

Before Friday’s ceremony, the squadron marked its deactivation by “flying the barn,” launching 18 aircraft in one flight, according to a Saturday news release from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. More than 300 service members, veterans, family members and local supporters gathered for the ceremony that followed.

“Thousands of aircrew have passed through the halls of VMFAT-101 — fighter pilots, fighter radar intercept officers, fighter weapon systems officers, and it’s bigger than that,” Brodie said, as quoted in the release. “This squadron has trained more maintenance Marines than any other in the Marine Corps.”

Retired Sgt. Maj. Dennis Downing, who was senior enlisted leader of the SharpSHooters from July 2014 to February 2016, told Marine Corps Times the squadron was distinctive in that it had students and maintainers from both the Marine Corps and the Navy at the time. So he got the chance to learn about the Navy’s way of doing business.

Pilots who went through Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 emerged ready to deploy, Downing said.

The retired sergeant major said the deactivation didn’t come as a surprise.

“The capabilities are only getting faster and stronger for the Marine Corps,” Downing said. “It’s just time to move on to something a little more sleek and hopefully deadlier.”

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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