Moonlighters Deactivated -- For A While, At Least

A bittersweet goodbye Friday in the Lowcountry, as the Marine Corps said goodbye to one of it's most efficient, and best fighter squadrons.

The Moonlighters have made a name for themselves over the years, but they're not going to be gone forever.

With one last playing of the Marine's Hymn and one last order from the platoon commanders, Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 officially went on what some might call a hiatus.

"They go out on top," said Col Dave Beydler. "It's one of the finest squadron's that we've got, and I envy them."

Officially, they're going on "cadre status," meaning their planes and personnel will be scattered, but the squadron's not technically deactivated.

"The sweet part is that the stand-down is not permanent," explained LtCol Samuel Kirby. "And in about 2011 or so, we're going to stand up again as a Joint Strike Fighter Squadron."

It's a move that the Marine Corps deems necessary, but isn't easy.

This is a group of marines who took home the corps' highest honors in 2006 as the best fighter squadron flying missions in Iraq.

"They took average people -- perhaps a little bit above average people -- but they all worked very well together and they achieved more than any one of them individually could have achieved," said Beydler.

Now the 250 or so Moonlighters that have had so much success already are being spread throughout the rest of the Marine Corps.

"I tell my marines that your history is with the Moonlighters, your future is with another squadron. Go to that squadron and make it the best fighter squadron in the marine corps," said Kirby.

When the Moonlighters come back on line in a few years, they'll certainly look different. That's because instead of FA-18 Hornets, they'll be flying the brand new F-35 Lightning II.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite,