Marine squadron gets new commander

BEAUFORT -- Being a squadron commander at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is in Lt. Col. Michael R. Orr's blood.

At a ceremony Friday, Orr relinquished command of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, the Thunderbolts, after about two years at the helm. Lt. Col. Peter D. Ponte took charge of the squadron.

As a child, Orr, 42, lived in Beaufort as his father, Col. James W. Orr, served as squadron commander of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 513, nicknamed The Flying Nightmares, from 1973-75.

It seemed appropriate, he said, that his first tenure as a commanding officer would come in Beaufort.

"He's very proud of me and happy to see his son have a successful run as squadron commander," he said. "I didn't do this just to please him or because he wanted me to, but that he's proud of me is definitely an added side benefit. This is all I've ever wanted. Ever since I became a pilot, all I've ever wanted to do is be a squadron commander."

Orr assumed command of the unit, which is made up of 220 Marines and sailors who maintain and fly F/A-18C Hornets, in July 2006. He led the Thunderbolts on two carrier deployments on the USS Enterprise and a deployment to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Orr said the work done by the Marines on those deployments are his proudest moments as commanding officer.

"Leading the squadron on back-to-back combat deployments safely and professionally and bringing all of our planes and personnel home safe is definitely something I'm very proud of," he said.

Orr will spend the next year at the Naval War College in Washington, D.C., working on a master's degree in international studies.

His selection to attend War College puts him in elite company.

Col. Gregg W. Brinegar, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 31, said just 15 percent of the 300 officers screened for the war college were chosen.

Orr and his wife, Kasey Miller, have been married for 19 years and have three children: Margaret, a freshman at Beaufort High School, Caroline, a sixth-grader at St. Peter's Catholic School and Jack, a second-grader at St. Peter's.