Story by LT Andrew Constantino on 06/06/2019The annual Maritime Patrol Association (MPA) Symposium returned to Jacksonville for another year. The tradition was celebrated from May 15-17 and drew many distinguished guests. All were present to take part in lectures, discussions, and social gatherings focused on the latest developments inside the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force (MPRF).
With an attendance list of more than 900 people, this year's symposium brought a crowd that was overflowing the auditorium in Hangar 30. It began with a special welcome from RDML Peter Garvin, Commander Patrol And Reconnaissance Group (CPRG).
"What a crowd," said RDML Garvin. "This is amazing. What a great time to be in this community."
As the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the MPRF, Patrol Squadron THIRTY (VP-30) is ground zero for new developments.
The VP-1 "Screaming Eagles" are the latest to receive training on the P-8A. With VP-1 complete, there are only two active duty VP squadrons still flying the P-3, one of which is currently transitioning.
This winter, VP-30 graduated the very last class of P-3 pilots it intends to send to the Fleet. There remains a small cadre of pilots who will continue to train students on the electronic intelligence-gathering variant of the P-3 the EP-3 but from this year forward almost all students at VP-30 will be trained solely on the P-8.
"It's exciting to see firsthand how the community is changing," said LCDR Darryl Abriam, the Student Control Officer at VP-30.
The EP-3 will remain in service until the full integration of the MQ-4C Triton, an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). The Navy just broke ground on a new facility for Unmanned Patrol Squadron ELEVEN (VUP-11) at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
CAPT T. J. Grady, Commanding Officer of VP-30 remarked, "It's always fun to bring together the experts in this community. It's important to determine where we're headed but also to remind ourselves where we came from."
Notable events for the week included multiple community briefs on May 15th, followed by the MPA Heritage dinner, the MPA Scholarship Golf Tournament, and the MPA Flight Suit Social.
The week's events began Tuesday afternoon as teams of five competed in the MPA Scholarship Games. Participants challenged a one-of-a-kind obstacle course designed to test each team's strength and determination. Afterwards competitors shared a beer and celebrated the launching of festivities.
The annual heritage dinner Wednesday evening was held in historic Hangar 117 aboard NAS Jacksonville and included more than 350 guests. The guest speaker for the evening was Vice Admiral Dewolfe Miller, Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF).
Every year the MPRF community inducts a new member into its Hall of Honor at the Heritage Dinner. Captain John McCaull, USN (Ret.) is the latest addition to a long list of distinguished service members. Captain McCaull served in the Navy for 31 years and accumulated over 5,000 hours in the Lockheed P-2V Neptune, the predecessor to the P-3C.
During the dinner, RDML Garvin announced the winners of the Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) Fleet Challenge. The Fleet Challenge is a competition between crews from different VP squadrons designed to test tactical knowledge and prowess. This year the top crew was Combat Aircrew (CAC) Three from the VP-4 "Skinny Dragons."
"We competed with a lot of great crews," said LT Brent Nelsen, the Mission Commander for CAC Three. "But this crew really earned the title this year. I couldn't be more proud of this team and how hard they worked."
Thursday afternoon Symposium attendees competed in the MPA golf tournament in order to support the MPA Scholarship Fund. The Fund, in partnership with the Wings Over America Scholarship Foundation, offers financial aid to dependents of active duty military members. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded $635,000 to Navy families. This year's winning team were Josh Lowery, Garett Houston, Ben Hayes, and Brian Mulder.
The following day brought the annual Spouse Symposium, where MPA members introduce military spouses to resources and networks that can help them navigate the challenges of family life in the service. This year attendees visited the offices of K9s for Warriors and the Wounded Warriors Foundation.
Friday evening members gathered for one last meeting at the flight suit social. Generations of aviators shared stories and made new friends as the festivities brought the week to a close.
"You almost never get opportunities like this outside of the Symposium," said LT John Gillen, a VP-30 Instructor.
In addition to the introduction of new platforms, VP-30 is now training squadrons to conduct Air-to-Air refueling operations with assets from other services. In addition, the UK, Australia, and Norway are all currently represented at NAS Jacksonville among the pilots and aircrew flying the P-8. The arrival of notable foreign military allies to receive training on the P-8 will only increase the influence of the platform around the world.
"One thing is for sure," said CAPT Grady, "the future of the MPRF community is in great shape."