Members of Savannah's Rotary Club had a special guest at today's meeting. Lt. Col. Thomas Clark has flown hundreds of missions in the Middle East since earning his wings in 1988. He's the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, whose home base is Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. His most recent missions were during Operation Iraqi Freedom in what was called the shock and awe campaign.
"Very fast paced," he described the experience. "Things moved very quickly. We were flying an awful lot. We flew out of a base in Kuwait. We were flying 24 hours a day, so the squadron was very busy. Days where we're usually working about 18 hours and off about six."
During the war in Afghanistan, Clark flew sorties from the deck of the USS Roosevelt, whose flight deck is less than 1,100 feet long. The actual landing area is just 750 feet, compared to more than 10,000 feet at a land-based airport. For Clark, it doesn't matter where he flies, awar on foreign soil or new responsibilities in homeland security.
"For us and for me personally, the mission is the same: to be prepared to do whatever the President tells us to do," he said. "If that means to war and fight terrorism then that 's what we do. So there's not a lot of change for me. It's still prepare, train and be ready to deploy at a moment's notice."
Clark says the most difficult part of Operation Iraqi Freedom is still ahead of us. Rebuilding the nation and taking care of the people will be a long and difficult challenge. Clark's squadron is a crew of about 175 Marines and sailors who maintain and fly 12 F/A-18 fighters.