The Marine Corps’ final weapons systems officers pinned on their wings at a ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday.
The change is mostly due to technology. The Marine Corps has used WSOs or “wizzos” in the rear seat of the F/A-18D.
The officer focuses on running weapons systems, navigation support, communications forward air control and tactical airborne reconnaissance so that the fighter jet pilot can fly the aircraft.
But with the shift from F/A-18s to the single-seat F-35s, Marine aviators now have algorithms and a suite of tech-enabled options to do those tasks instead.
Or, in Marine speak, “As the Marine Corps continues to transition from the F/A-18 Hornet to the F-35 Lightning II, the need for a WSO military occupational specialty (MOS) will come to an end,” according to the release.
Also, an increase in the number of F/A-18Cs, a Navy single-seat version, has cut the need for WSOs.
Current plans call for all two-seat F/A18s to be replaced by single-seaters by 2030, according to a Marine Corps release.
First lieutenants Michael LoGrande and John Roger Rueckel III were the last two Marines to graduate with the “Sabrehawks” in training squadron (VT) 86, according to a Marine Corps release.
LoGrande, from Alexandria, Virginia, was commissioned in 2018 through the Platoon Leaders Course, according to the Marine Corps. His father, retired Col. Michael LoGrande, pinned the gold wings on his son.
Rueckel, from Hamburg, New Jersey, also commissioned through Platoon Leaders Course in 2018. His grandfather, Benjamine Harty, served as an Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division during the Korean War, according to the Marine Corps. Rueckel’s wife, Madeline Murray, pinned his wings.
“Today’s winging of the last two Marine Naval Flight Officers begins the closing of a chapter in Marine Corps aviation,” said Capt. Kenneth Russell, commodore of Training Air Wing 6. “I have no doubt that these two fine aviators will be exceptional stewards of the F/A-18-D Hornet’s winning legacy and its decades of combat success.”
The final female Marine got her WSO gold wings in May when 1st Lt. Brenda McCarthy graduated from the course, according to a Corps release.
But these Marines still have time ahead of them in the seat. That’s because the F/A-18 is scheduled to keep flying for the next six to seven years.
“The last deployment for the F/A-18D is scheduled in Fiscal Year 28; however, there may be some operational aircraft through final sundown in Fiscal Year 29,” said Maj. J.A. Hernandez.
While all aviation students start entry-level flight training at the Naval Introductory Flight Evaluation program at Pensacola, Florida, Marine student WSOs go on to the VT-10 “Wildcats” for primary flight training then to VT-86 for intermediate and advanced strike training, according to the release.
Both LoGrande and Rueckel will report to the “Sharpshooters” of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, to begin postgraduate WSO training in the F/A-18D Hornet, according to the release.
Marine Corps Times Senior Writer Philip Athey contributed to this article.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.