Families of Beaufort Marines get behind-the-scenes look at critical training

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 24, 2012 

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Crouched beside a runway at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, King Lotz III steadied his digital camera to snap a photograph as the F-18 Hornet piloted by his son descended toward the tarmac.

With the jet mere feet from the runway, the lead signal officer on the ground waved off the landing, sending the jet skyward for another pass.

As it roared into the distance, Lotz and his wife, Sybil, shared a hug and a smile.

It marked the first time either had seen their son, Capt. King Lotz IV, a third-generation military pilot, at the controls of a fighter jet.

The couple were among about 20 relatives of members of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 who visited the air station Friday to get a behind-the-scenes look at life in the unit as it prepares to deploy to Afghanistan next month aboard an aircraft carrier.

"This is our way to show our appreciation to the families and spouses of our Marines for what they have to put up with," Lt. Col. Simon Doran, the unit's commanding officer, said.

The families were driven in vans to a remote part of the airfield, where the squadron was practicing carrier landings. The exercise requires pilots to land on a small patch of the runway, simulating a carrier's flight deck.

Watching her son perform more than a half dozen touch-and-go landings was humbling and harrowing, Sybil Lotz said.

"When I was the wife watching my husband do the very same things, somehow it didn't register how dangerous it was," she said. "But when it's my son out there, that's my baby, and I just can't believe it's him out doing such dangerous, precision work. His father was definitely the proud papa today, and I was the nervous mom."

Though noisy, the training is necessary to ensure the safety of the pilots and everyone else aboard the aircraft carrier, Doran said.

"We have training instructions that are written in blood," Doran said. "People have died doing what we do, and from all those mishaps, we learn what we have to do better and develop a better training syllabus. I have over 700 (carrier landings), and it's still the most difficult thing I've ever done."

King Lotz III, who flew F-14 Tomcats in the Navy, knows how difficult it can be, and before his son could get out of his flight suit, the two were talking shop.

"I did this for eight years, and now I'm out on a flight line watching my son do it," he said. "It's extremely cool. He's doing exactly what he talked about doing since he was very, very young. This was the moment he wanted from the time I put a flight suit and flight gear on him when he was 4 years old. We're very proud of him."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

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