Author’s Collection

VMFAT-101 was activated 3 January 1969 at MCAS, El Toro, California.  The war in Southeast Asia was raging at this time, and the Marine Corps had a pressing need for aviators and ground crewmen to man the fighter/attack squadrons that were rotating in and out of the war zone.  As a result, the first three years of the squadron’s existence perhaps were the busiest in its history to date.  Shortly after the squadron’s activation, the Marines began to withdraw from combat in Southeast Asia, and the shortages of trained personnel among the fighter/attack squadrons had largely been made good.  After eighteen months of operations from El Toro, the squadron was relocated to MCAS, Yuma, Arizona.  From its new base, it was able to take advantage of the less crowded airspace to be found over the desert.  [Although unstated, the remoteness of the Arizona desert location with regard to the attractive off-duty diversions of Southern California likely played at least a small part in the decision as well.]


The mission of the "Sharpshooters" is that which the designation implies, namely, the training of new aircrews and ground crews for the Marine Corps Fighter/Attack squadrons.  Before a newly hatched aviator reports to his operational Fighter/Attack squadron, he will first attend the course of instruction conducted by VMFAT-101.  During his time with the squadron he will be trained in the fighter/attack mission and to fly the aircraft of the operational squadron to which he will ultimately report for duty, currently the F/A-18 HORNET.  Thus, the squadron is the Marine Corps’ functional equivalent of the Navy's Fleet Replenishment Squadrons (F.R.S.'s).  [These squadrons were at one time called. Replacement Air Group, or R.A.G squadrons.]


In addition to aircrew training, VMFAT-101 is responsible for training the ground crews that will be assigned eventually to one of the Marines’ fighter/attack squadrons equipped with the current operational aircraft found at squadron level.  Most of these individuals have completed training courses on the various systems to be found in the HORNET, but, while the equipment is often the same, classrooms bear little similarity to the cramped interior spaces of an operational aircraft. 


At the time of its activation, the squadron’s mission was to train F-4 PHANTOM II air and ground crews.  When the Navy disestablished its last F-4 F.R.S./R.A.G. squadron, VF-171, in June 1984, VMFAT-101 assumed the additional responsibility of training the Navy’s F-4 aircrews, in addition to those for the Marines.  No doubt this close mix of “squids” and “jarheads” led to some interesting sessions in the various watering holes in the area!


In October 1987, the squadron relocated again to El Toro and began to train aircrews for the Marines' newest fighter/attack aircraft, the McDonnell/Douglas F/A-18 HORNET.  It continues to serve in this role today and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  With the decision by the Base realignment and Closure Committee of the House and Senate, to order the Navy to vacate NAS, Miramar near San Diego, it was decided to move most of those units resident at El Toro to Miramar and to close El Toro.  VMFAT-101 now operates from the former Naval Air Station, which, interestingly, was formerly a Marine Corps facility.


At least five versions of the squadron's insignia are known to exist, and these are shown in the accompanying plates.  In them, the first insignia, at the head of this section, is the official squadron insignia, and the second, third and fourth are one of at least three unofficial variations.  The last insignia is an example of the squadron’s insignia adopted upon its activation in 1969.  With the exception of the first and last examples, it seems the "Sharpshooters" have adopted an unofficial insignia that commemorates each type of aircraft they have flown since their activation.

According to regulations that govern insignia design and content, this practice is a no - no.  Perhaps they skirt regulations by considering these to be unofficial insignia.  If this is indeed the case, it serves to prove the old adage that every rule is made to be broken, even in the Marine Corps.


Note the red “S” and the blue “H” in the larger of the two designs that depict the F/A-18.  The combination of the red and blue letters, as opposed to both letters in red indicate this particular insignia dates from a period during which the squadron trained both Navy and Marine aircrews in the HORNET.

Author’s Collection

via Holmbert

Order your own U.S. Marine Corps Aviation Squadron Lineage, Insignia & History. Click here for details