Carrier Air Wings
CARRIER AIR WINGS
There are currently 10 U.S. Navy carrier air wings: five based on the East Coast at NAS Oceana; four based on the West Coast at NAS Lemoore, California; and one forward deployed to NAF Atsugi, Japan.
Each carrier air wing is organized, equipped and trained to conduct carrier air operations while embarked aboard aircraft carriers. When deployed, each wing provides a wide array of aircraft types to provide carrier strike groups both the striking power and defensive capability to project America’s interests worldwide. An air wing consists of roughly 2,500 personnel and 60 to 65 aircraft.
The five carrier air wings based at NAS Oceana are Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1, which supports USS Enterprise (CVN 65); CVW-3, which supports USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75); CVW-7, which supports USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVS-69); CVW-8, which supports USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77); and CVW-17, which supports USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).
When deployed, each of these wings normally include F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet strike fighters, EA-6B Prowler or EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, E-2 Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft, C-2A Greyhound cargo aircraft and MH-60 and MH-60R helicopters, which are used for anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, anti-ship warfare, cargo lift and special operations.
The mission of the carrier air wings includes the planning, coordination and integration of aviation squadrons in all weather conditions to maintain air superiority for offensive air attacks, destruction of enemy aircraft and missiles, destruction of enemy ships and submarines, electronic intelligence, airborne early warning, airborne electronic countermeasures, and search and rescue operations.
Following is the mission and brief history, since 2000, for each of the five carrier air wings homeported at NAS Oceana. For a complete history on each wing, see the NAS Oceana website at www.cnic.navy.mil/oceana.
CARRIER AIR WING (CVW) 1
CVW-1 has been in commission longer than any other Navy air wing. Since commissioning on July 1, 1938, CVW-1 has served aboard 19 different aircraft carriers and made more than 50 major deployments and had a majority of the East Coast squadrons as members of the Navy’s “First and Foremost.”
CVW-1’s current squadrons include three strike fighter squadrons homeported at NAS Oceana (VFA-11, VFA-136 and VFA-211); VAQ-137, equipped with EA-18G aircraft; VAW-125, equipped with E-2D aircraft; HS-11, equipped with SH-60F and HH-60H helicopters; and VRC-40 Detachment ONE, equipped with C-2A cargo aircraft.
After being in homeport since March 2000, CVW-1 deployed in September 2001 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) — just eight days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — to support attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan. CVW-1 flew 7,086 sorties — 3,016 in direct support of OEF while employing a multitude of munitions during its deployment.
CVW-1 continued to support America’s war on terrorism during the 2003 deployment as part of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in execution of an aggressive Strike Warfare Campaign. During operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the
Air Wing flew 11,029 sorties and 19,524 flight hours.
The 2006 combat deployment was followed by a second surge deployment seven months later to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations, supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During its 2007 deployment, CVW-1 flew more than 1,678 combat missions, expending 73 air-to-ground weapons in support of coalition forces. Following the successful 2007 surge deployment, CVW-1 and USS Enterprise (CVN-65) returned to the Hampton Roads area for an extended maintenance and training period. April 2010 marked the beginning of CVW-1’s workups for its 2011 deployment.
CVW-1 deployed in early January 2011 in support of overseas contingency operations. During this deployment, CVW-1 safely executed 1,448 combat missions in support of International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. In total, CVW-1 executed 7,926 sorties, and surpassed more than 400,000 arrested carrier landings — the most in USS Enterprise(CVN-65)’s history.
This deployment marked the first Navy employment of the GBU-54 laser guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions in combat, ultimately resulting in the GBU-54 becoming the weapon of choice for joint terminal air controllers in Afghanistan. Additionally, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and CVW-1 supported three counterpiracy operations directly resulting in 21 suspected pirates being captured and four killed in action.
After a quick turnaround, on March 11, 2012, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) commenced its 25th and final deployment and Tarbox quickly returned to an established battle rhythm. The Air Wing provided successful CAS, EW, and ABCC support to ground troops with 2,241 OEF combat sorties. As a whole, Tarbox flew more than 9,400 sorties with over 8,700 traps.
After back to back deployments aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), and upon her decommissioning, CVW-1 became part of Carrier Strike Group Twelve (CSG-12) and was once again assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in August 2013 at the completion of her mid-life RCOH. The landscape of the Air Wing changed with VAQ-137’s transition to the EA-18G Growler and the welcoming of VAW-125, the first squadron to transition to the E-2D. CVW-1 embarked on the Rooselvelt on March 9, 2015, and departed Norfolk for the Arabian Gulf. From April until October of 2015, Tarbox flew 1842 combat sorties in Iraq and Syria in support of operation Inherent Resolve and employed 1,113 precision guided munitions, totaling more than 510 tons of ordnance, in the fight against ISIL. Tarbox aircraft and personnel returned to their home bases upon Roosevelt’s return to its new home port of San Diego, California, on Nov. 23, 2015.
CARRIER AIR WING (CVW) 3
Established July 1, 1938, CVW-3 is one of the two oldest air wings in the U.S. Navy. Initially commissioned as Saratoga Air Group, CVW-3 participated in many fleet exercises introducing carrier aviation to the fleet. During World War II, CVW-3 served aboard USS Saratoga (CV 3), USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Enterprise (CV 6), participating in many naval engagements in the Pacific theater. “Team Battle Axe” fought in the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea and Iwo Jima, and flew many strikes against the Japanese home islands.
In November 2000, CVW-3 marked its 25th deployment by joining USS Harry S. Truman (HST) (CVN 75). The Battle Axe/Truman team spent four months on station in the Arabian Gulf conducting several response option strikes in support of Operation Southern Watch. This was HST’s first deployment, and “Team Battle Axe” has been with it ever since.
On Dec. 6, 2002, CVW-3 and HST departed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, remaining in theater to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. CVW-3 launched aircraft from HST off the coast of Egypt in the southeastern Mediterranean in support of operations in western Iraq. From October 2004 to April 2005 “Team Battle Axe” deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Hurricane Katrina hit in September 2005, CVW-3 provided logistical assistance, including the rescue of several stranded victims. In November 2007, “Team Battle Axe” deployed to the Arabian Gulf for its 28th deployment, returning in June 2008.
“Team Battle Axe” has since completed two highly successful deployments aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) to the Arabian Gulf from May 2010 to December 2010 and again from July 2013 to April 2014.
CVW-3 is comprised of seven squadrons including VFA-32, VFA-105, VFA-131, and VFA-86 from NAS Oceana. Other assigned squadrons include VAQ-130, VAW-126, HSM-74 and HSC-7. Currently CVW-3 is attached to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and ready to deploy anywhere worldwide.
CARRIER AIR WING (CVW) 7
CVW-7 is under the operational control of Carrier Strike Group 8, and embarks on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Seven squadrons are assigned to the air wing including four strike fighter squadrons homeported at NAS Oceana: VFA-103 “Jolly Rogers,” in the F/A18E; VFA-143 “Pukin’ Dogs,” in the F/A-18F; VFA-83 “Rampagers” and flying the F/A-18C. Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140 “Patriots” fly the EA-6B and are stationed at NAS Whidbey Island; Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 “Bluetails” fly the E-2C; and Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HSC) 5 “Nightdippers” fly the SH-60F and HH-60H helicopters.
CVW-7 was commissioned July 20, 1943, at Alameda Naval Air Station, California, and commenced combat operations against the Japanese on Sept. 6, 1944, by striking the Palau Islands in preparation for amphibious lands there.
In the past decade, CVW-7 deployed six times to the Middle East returning in July 2013 from its most recent deployment.
In 2002, CVW-7 deployed to the Indian Ocean with USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). There, CVW-7 conducted strikes and close air support missions in Afghanistan during the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom. CVW-7 returned to the Middle East in 2004 aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) and again in 2006 aboard Ike to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom, conducting several thousand missions in support of troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009 and again in 2010, CVW-7 deployed to the Indian Ocean to conduct combat operations in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
CARRIER AIR WING (CVW) 8
The mission of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 is to conduct offensive air operations against both land and sea targets and provides for carrier strike group (CSG) defense and sustained air operations in support of other forces as directed. Embarked aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), CVW-8 employs a mix of sophisticated aircraft capable of air warfare, strike warfare, anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare.
The air wing consists of eight squadrons. The strike/fighter role is fulfilled by four NAS Oceana strike fighter squadrons: VFA-31 and VFA-87 with F/A-18E and VFA-213 with the F/A-18F Super Hornets; and VFA-37 flying the F/A-18C Hornet. Airborne early warning and airborne command and control are the responsibility of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 124 with the multi-mission E-2C Hawkeye. Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9 flies the MH-60S and is responsible for search and rescue/combat logistics. The complex, dynamic realm of anti-submarine warfare is the domain of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 70, flying the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter. Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 141 flies the new Boeing EA-18G Growler, providing electronic attack and electronic surveillance to enhance the Navy’s capabilities and survivability in today’s electronically oriented combat environment.
CVW-8 began operations June 1, 1943, from NAS Norfolk, Virginia, and was initially assigned to USS Intrepid (CV 11). Since its initial commissioning, CVW-8 has been decommissioned twice, first in 1945 following World War II and then again in 1949. In April 1951, CVW-8 was commissioned for the third time and has remained operational ever since.
In 2000, CVW-8 executed its Interdeployment Training Cycle, in preparation for the 2001 deployment. Operations included flight deck certification, Orange Air, Independent Steaming Exercise, TSTA II/III/FEP, and air wing integration training.
In 2001, CVW-8 completed a 6.5-month deployment culminating in the initial strikes of Operation Enduring Freedom. JTG 01-2 began with detachments in Tunisia, Corsica and Israel, as well as a half-dozen port visits throughout the Mediterranean. In June, a portion of the battle group sailed north of Scotland to participate in the Joint Maritime Course (JMC), a multinational training exercise. The first three months of deployment brought the battle group together as a team while delivering more than 195,000 pounds of NCEA. Starting in early July, the air wing took the reins of Operation Southern Watch (OSW) from CVW-2. Here the air wing refined its tactics using small self-escort packages on time-sensitive strikes. Over a six-week period, the air wing released more than 29,000 pounds of ordnance against a variety of Iraqi targets. USS Enterprise and CVW-8 were the first in theater after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The lessons and coordination honed during OSW proved directly applicable to the Operation Enduring Freedom environment. During 16 days of combat operations, CVW-8 flew 680 sorties and delivered more than 770,000 pounds of precision-guided munitions.
On Feb. 19, 2002, the air wing was reassigned to Commander, Roosevelt Battle Group. In July 2002, CVW-8 began accelerated workup operations leading to a combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In October 2002, CVW-8 integrated VFA-201, the first reserve squadron to be activated in more than 50 years. Deploying in January 2002 for Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) on USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to support operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In combat operations from March to April 2003, CVW-8 completed more than 1,002 combat sorties, flying more than 5,000 hours (75 percent of which were at night) and delivering 1 million pounds of precision-guided weapons on target. Returning to NAS Oceana in May 2003, CVW-8 was chosen as the test platform for the CNO’s Fleet Response Plan initiative. Deploying in September 2003 with USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), CVW-8 maintained an exceptional COMPTUEX level in all areas, and completed the at-sea period with an impressive 99 percent sortie completion rate and a grade of B-1 in all strike metrics.
In March 2004, CVW-8 began workups and on Sept. 1, 2005, CVW-8 embarked again on USS Theodore Roosevelt for an extended deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf. The air wing safely executed 16,000 sorties and 38,980 flight hours, achieved an unprecedented 97.3 percent sortie completion rate and expended more than 61,000 pounds of ordnance during this deployment. In response to time-sensitive targeting and operational requirements, the air wing provided forward deployed support from Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, and Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, to coalition ground forces. The superior efforts of the CVW-8 and USS Theodore Roosevelt team were recognized by award of the “Jig Dog” Ramage Award for the best performance by an integrated unit, and the Adm. James H. Flatley Award for Safety Excellence. This was the last deployment of the F-14 Tomcats as fighter squadrons (VF) 31 and VF-213, the Navy’s final two F-14 squadrons, began transitioning to the FA-18E/F Super Hornet shortly after their return.
The beginning of 2008 saw CVW-8 return to its workup schedule as it spent the better part of the year participating in air-to-air Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP), Tailored Ship’s Training Availability (TSTA), COMPTUEX, Air Wing Fallon and Joint Task Force Exercise before deploying in the fall of 2008. On Sept. 8, 2008, CVW-8 and USS Theodore Roosevelt deployed, beginning a 7.5-month deployment to assist in the global war on terror in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While in transit to relieve CVW-14, CVW-8 made a brief stop in Cape Town, South Africa, before arriving in the North Arabian Sea in October. While on station, the air wing flew more than 3,100 sorties, delivering 19,500 pounds of ordnance in support of troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
In early April 2009, the USS Theodore Roosevelt/CVW-8 team returned to their homeport of Norfolk.
In August 2009, CVW-8 was assigned to the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) and began their workup cycle in June 2010 in preparation for the initial deployment. CVW-8 spent the latter half of 2010 and beginning of 2011 sharpening the air wing’s warfighting skills in preparation for their upcoming combat deployment during SFARP, TSTA, Air Wing Fallon and C2X/JTFEX. A deployment of firsts, in May 2011 CVW-8 deployed the first U.S. Navy all F/A-18 air wing with the introduction of the EA-18G Growler. Additionally, CVW-8 deployed with the first MH-60S squadron and first East Coast maritime strike variant, the MH-60R. While deployed, CVW-8 participated in joint tactical exercises Saxon Warrior, Trident Mariner, Indigo Serpent, Infinite Acclaim, Nautical Artist and Invincible Trident. CVW-8 expended more than 41,000 pounds of ordnance and flew more than 30,000 flight hours during combat operations supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as well as S.A.V.E. missions off the Horn of Africa.
Strike Fighter Squadrons
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRONS
There are 16 fleet F/A-18 strike fighter squadrons homeported at NAS Oceana, all maintaining their combat readiness in order to deploy aboard an aircraft carrier whenever needed to project U.S. military might throughout the world.
As part of a carrier air wing, their mission is to serve as the tip of the sword for the carrier fleet to include air superiority, strike, maritime superiority, airborne forward air control, and combat search and rescue. Each strike fighter squadron normally consists of 10 to 12 aircraft, 22 officers and about 190 enlisted personnel.
All were greatly affected by three major events that occurred as the Navy entered the 21st century: the transition from
F-14 Tomcat to F/A-18 Hornet aircraft; the relocation of F/A-18 units from Cecil Field, Florida, to NAS Oceana in 1998 and 1999; and the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Following is the mission and brief history, since 2000, for each of the 16 deployable F/A-18 squadrons homeported at NAS Oceana. For a complete history on each squadron, see the NAS Oceana website at www.cnic.navy.mil/oceana.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 11
After more than 80 years of continuous service with 27 different fighter aircraft and aboard 25 different aircraft carriers, the Red Rippers carry on their proud tradition as the Navy’s oldest continuously active fighter squadron. The world-famous Red Rippers returned home to NAS Oceana in November 2015 from their most recent deployment.
In February 2000, the Rippers completed a highly successful deployment aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, providing support to operations in both Kosovo and Iraq. During that deployment, the Rippers became the first squadron to drop bombs in anger from the deck of the Eisenhower. On Sept. 11, 2001, Fighter Squadron (VF) 11 was called to action. The Rippers provided homeland and coastal defense in support of Operation Noble Eagle in response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Rippers deployed in February 2002 aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Returning from deployment, Fighter Squadron VF-11 commenced a demanding turnaround readiness cycle, including firing 18 air-to-air missiles, dropping more than 20 tons of air-to-ground ordnance and training against the formidable MiG-29s from the NATO Adversary Group.
In January 2004, the world-famous Red Rippers began a six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf where they flew combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from the flight deck of USS George Washington (CVN 73). This marked the final deployment for VF-11 flying the Grumman F-14B Tomcat. While on this deployment, VF-11 achieved the highest landing grades in CVW-7 and was subsequently presented the CVW-7 Top Hook Award for the 2004 cruise. The Red Rippers flew 2,851.6 hours and 264 Operation Iraqi Freedom combat sorties during their deployment. This translated to an astounding 100 percent sortie completion rate for VF-11 and stands as a testament to the unmatched Ripper maintenance department.
The Red Rippers returned in July and executed a surge period until December with CVW-7, and then maintained operational readiness for another surge period with CVW-17. In April 2005, Fighter Squadron 11 became a strike fighter squadron (VFA) by transitioning to the F/A-18F Rhino. This transition was completed in November 2005 with VFA-11 attached to CVW-17. On Nov. 5, 2007, the Rippers embarked on their first combat deployment flying the Rhino aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) as a member of CVW-3. During this deployment the Rippers continued their long history of superior tactical employment by leading the air wing in ordnance released in support of the troops on the ground in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While deployed they released 40 tons of ordnance and flew more than 1,800 sorties totaling more than 5,070 embarked hours.
The Red Rippers joined CVW-1 Sept. 30, 2008, and today, VFA-11 exercises the full gamut of strike fighter missions, including air superiority, strike, maritime superiority, forward air control (airborne), and combat search and rescue. The Rippers also excel as a night attack platform, using night vision devices to perform a variety of missions.
In January 2011, VFA-11 deployed aboard Enterprise and supported operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom. VFA-11 flew more than 1,600 combat hours, supported more than 40 “troops in contact” situations and had the distinction of being the first Navy squadron to employ the GBU-54 Laser JDAM in combat. VFA-11 most recently completed an around-the-world deployment with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in November 2015.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 31
As one of the oldest squadrons operating in the U.S. Navy today, VFA-31 has a long and distinguished history. Its beginnings can be traced to the commissioning of the VF-1B Shooting Stars in July 1935, flying the Boeing F4B-4.
Over the years, the squadron also has flown under the designations Fighter Squadron (VF) 6 (1937-1943), VF-3 (1943-1948), VF-31 (1948-2006) and finally VFA-31 (2006-present). It was in 1946 under the designation of VF-3 that “Felix the Cat” officially became the squadron mascot. Two years later during the redesignation to VF-31, the squadron adopted the current call sign of the Tomcatters. During its distinguished history, the Tomcatters have flown a multitude of venerable aircraft including the F4B-4, F3F-2, F4F-4, F6F, F8F-1, F9F-2, F2H, F3H, F-3B, F-4B, F-4J, F-14A, F-14D and FA-18E.
Through the years, the Tomcatters and their predecessors have served aboard the Navy’s finest aircraft carriers, including USS Langley (CV 1), USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Enterprise (CV 6). In 1980, VF-31 and USS Saratoga (CV 60) concluded a 24-year period of continuous service together, the longest in naval history. Since that time, the Tomcatters have served aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 73) and the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
The tactical prowess of “Fighting 31” is well-documented as the Tomcatters have served in every major conflict since their inception. The squadron was aboard USS Enterprise during the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as the battles of Wake Island, Marcus Island, Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal and the Eastern Solomons. The squadron has seen aerial combat over the Philippines, Taiwan, Okinawa and China. Flying the F-4J Phantom in 1972, CDR Sam “Speed” Flynn, executive officer of VF-31, shot down a MiG-21 over North Vietnam. This accomplishment once again set the Tomcatters above its competitors by distinguishing VF-31 as the only Navy fighter squadron to achieve aerial victories in three wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Overall, the Tomcatters’ total combat experience includes fierce battles in virtually every theater of operation as well as regional conflicts all around the world.
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the squadron was once again called to the fight. In July 2002, Fighting 31 deployed aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. During their return home, VF-31, along with the rest of the battle group, was turned around Jan. 1, 2003, to ready the stage for the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Flying from the first night of combat over Baghdad to the last day of the short war, VF-31 was individually responsible for delivering more than 230,000 tons of ordnance.
After that historic cruise, VF-31 marked the history books once again as it embarked with CVW-8 on USS Theodore Roosevelt for the U.S. Navy’s last Tomcat deployment in September 2005. Upon return, the squadron began the transition to the new F/A-18E Super Hornet and was redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31.
In April 2009, VFA-31 returned after a highly successful eight-month combat deployment aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The Tomcatters dominated the skies above Afghanistan, flying more than 6,000 hours and 2,000 sorties in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Through superior weapons, sophisticated technology and unparalleled skill, Fighting 31 achieved 100 percent target destruction expending 31 precision-guided munitions.
The Tomcatters’ hard work did not go unnoticed. In early 2010, Commander, Naval Air Forces awarded VFA-31 the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle “E” and the Rear Adm. Clarence Wade McClusky Award. The Battle “E” distinguishes VFA-31 as the most battle-effective Super Hornet squadron on the East Coast, while the coveted McClusky Award recognizes the Tomcatters as the top attack squadron in the U.S. Navy.
VFA-31 deployed in May 2011 with CVW-8 aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). On the aircraft carrier’s maiden deployment, the Tomcatters flew more than 4,100 hours and 2,000 sorties. VFA-31 again set the standard by delivering 23 precision-guided munitions and more than 1,500 high explosive incendiary (HEI) rounds of 20 mm, achieving 100 percent target destruction.
In January 2017 the Tomcatters embarked yet again on the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Felix simultaneously provided Defensive Counter Air patrols for the FIFTH fleet area of responsibility while providing close air support (CAS) in Iraq and Syria, contributing to the liberation of Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria from ISIS forces. Fighting Felix flew 4,720 hours and 446 combat missions employing 451 pieces of ordnance totaling 452,286 pounds. After a productive seven month deployment, VFA-31 returned to Oceana in August 2017 beginning shore based sustainment, training, and maintenance phase.
The Tomcatters take great pride in their distinguished and colorful history.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 32
The VFA-32 Swordsmen originated on Feb. 1, 1945, as VBF-3, after VF-3 was split into two squadrons. VBF-3 joined Carrier Air Group THREE onboard USS Yorktown (CV 10) operating in the Pacific theater. Flying F6F-5 “Hellcats,” VBF-3 pilots became the first Navy carrier-based pilots to attack the homeland of the Japanese Empire. During the heavy action on that day, the squadron shot down 24 Japanese aircraft for which the Swordsmen received the Presidential Unit Citation. In 1946, VBF-3 transitioned to F8F-1 “Bearcats” and redesignated as VF-4A. In August 1948, the squadron became VF-32, with the transition to the F4U-4.
At the outbreak of the Korean conflict, pilots from VF-32 were flying F4U-4 “Corsairs” onboard USS Leyte (CV 32). From October 1950 to January 1951, VF-32 participated in strikes against Korean targets including Wonsan Harbor, Puckchong, Chonjin, and the Chosin Reservoir. A significant event for the Swordsmen occurred Dec. 4, 1950, during a strike against the Chosin Reservoir. ENS Jesse L. Brown, the first black Navy fighter pilot, was hit by anti-aircraft fire and forced down in North Korean territory. A squadron mate, LTJG Thomas Hudner looked down and saw his friend trapped in his aircraft, reaching up to Hudner for help as the plane caught fire. LTJG Hudner crash landed his aircraft alongside ENS Brown in an attempt to rescue him, but his efforts were in vain. The President awarded LTJG Hudner the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic effort and ENS Brown the Distinguished Flying Cross. After operations in Korea, the squadron returned to the East Coast where they became the first operational unit to fly the Grumman F9F-6 “Cougar,” the Navy’s first swept wing jet fighter. VF-32 made subsequent deployments onboard USS Tarawa (CV 40) in 1953 and the USS Ticonderoga (CV 14) in 1955.
In 1956, VF-32 became the first Navy squadron to transition to the new F8U-1 “Crusader.” While deployed onboard USS Saratoga (CVA 60) as a unit of Carrier Air Group THREE, VF-32 participated in the Lebanese conflict of 1958. During the Cuban missile crisis in late 1962, VF-32 flew 96 sorties in support of photoreconnaissance flights and intelligence gathering missions. The Squadron changed home port from Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida to Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia after returning from cruise in 1965. VF-32 detached from Carrier Air Group THREE, ending a relationship that had lasted continuously since the squadron’s inception.
VF-32 deployed on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) in June 1966 as a component of Carrier Air Group ONE and sailed for Southeast Asia. The squadron flew 940 combat sorties in five months, building a highly successful combat record and losing no aircraft or aircrew. In May 1968, VF-32 deployed on USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) for her maiden voyage. In 1971, the squadron received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for actions in support of Sixth Fleet operations during the Middle East Crisis. In 1974, VF-32 introduced the F-14A “Tomcat” to the East coast, embarking on their first Atlantic Fleet deployment in June 1975. On that cruise, the Navy awarded VF-32 the Admiral Joseph Clifton Award as the Navy’s top fighter squadron. In October 1977, VF-32 became the first fleet squadron to fly against the Air Force F-15, setting the stage for regularly scheduled dissimilar air combat training between the Air Force and the Navy. The Gypsies of VF-32 again deployed for the Mediterranean on USS John F. Kennnedy (CV 67) in June 1978. VF-32 conducted the first fleet test and evaluation of the new and highly successful Television Camera System. The Swordsmen also deployed with AIM-9L missiles for the first fleet captive-carry evaluation. A mid-cruise missile exercise, “Buzzardex,” was an unqualified success with firings of AIM-54A Phoenix and AIM-7F Sparrow missiles at five Mach 2.5 targets.
In October 1979, VF-32 completed an unprecedented 10 years of accident-free flying. In those 10 years, the squadron flew over 33,000 hours with 17,000 of those in the F-14A “Tomcat.” In 1980, the Swordsmen received with the Admiral Clifton Award. The Swordsmen enjoyed an accident-free Mediterranean cruise onboard John F. Kennedy (CV 67) in 1980 and 1981.
In 1982, the squadron completed another accident-free Mediterranean deployment onboard USS Independence (CV 62), achieving the 1982 Comnavairlant Battle “E” and CNO Safety “S.” VF-32 flew combat air patrol missions and provided TARPS imagery for air strikes on Syrian positions in Lebanon and in support of American forces in Grenada. The deployment concluded with participation in NATO exercise “Teamwork 84” in the Norwegian Sea. After a quick turnaround, the Swordsmen made a third deployment onboard USS Independence (CV 62) from October 1984 through February 1985 to the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The Swordsmen rejoined CVW-3 in February 1985, deploying onboard John F. Kennedy (CV 67) in August of 1986 for another Mediterranean cruise. VF-32 participated in a variety of NATO and combined exercises, and celebrated a second decade of safety. On Jan. 4, 1989, a section of “Gypsy” Tomcats, while conducting routine operations north of Libya, were vectored on two approaching Libyan Fighters. After attempts at a peaceful intercept, and with hostile intent evident, the section of Swordsmen fired AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles downing two Libyan MIG-23 Floggers. The combat proven Swordsmen returned to Oceana in February of 1989.
In August 1990, the Swordsmen deployed to the Red Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield. Combat operations over Iraq from 16 January to 28 February 1991 marked the sixth decade of Swordsmen participation in armed conflict.
Throughout Operation Desert Storm, VF-32 aircrew logged 1,445 combat flight hours on 403 missions, including 38 combat TARPS missions. Returning from the Red Sea in 1991, the Swordsmen won the 1991 Airlant Grand Slam missile firing competition with an unprecedented 17 of 17 scored kills.
VFA-32 and the John F. Kennedy (CV 67) again deployed in October 1992. The Gypsies conducted several air-to-ground operations while on cruise, marking the beginning of the Tomcat Strike/Fighter mission. The Swordsmen returned home to NAS Oceana in April 1993 highlighting the year with presentations of the Golden Wrench, Battle “E,” and Clifton Awards.
From May 1994 to November 1998, the Swordsmen participated in a number of combat operations to include: Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, Operation Southern Watch in Iraq and in Bosnia/Herzegovina in support of Operation Deny Flight. The Gypsies brought digital imagery to the TARPS mission, receiving the Meritorious Unit Commendation for their cutting edge work with Digital TARPS.
From Dec. 16 to 19, 1998, Carrier Air Wing THREE participated in combat operation against Iraqi targets in Operation Desert Fox. The Gypsies expended over 111,000 pounds of precision guided munitions while participating in 16 strike missions and 38 sorties. The Tomcat achieved many firsts; the first GBU-24’s to be dropped by the Navy in combat, the first multiple (“consecutive miracles”) GBU-24 drop by any platform in combat, the first combat use of the LANTIRN targeting pod, the first autonomous F-14 delivery of a GBU-10/16/24, and the first use of Night Vision Devices (NVD) in combat. The combat proven Swordsmen completed this historic deployment and returned to NAS Oceana in May 1999.
The Swordsmen deployed again in November 2000, for the maiden voyage of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). This time they spent four months in support of Operation Southern Watch as the only deployed Tomcat squadron in the world. Swordsmen Maintenance also won the coveted CVW-3 Golden Wrench award for have a completion rate of over 99.7 percent in two
back-to-back line periods. VF-32 returned home to Oceana on May 23, 2001.
In December 2002, the Swordsmen deployed once again on board USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) to the Mediterranean Sea in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Northern Watch, and Iraqi Freedom. Participating in liberation efforts, the Swordsmen released over 402,000 pounds of ordnance on targets in Northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Once again, VF-32 set a Tomcat benchmark being the first fighter squadron to release multiple JDAM. Having contributed significantly to the liberation of Iraq, the battle hardened Swordsmen returned to Oceana in May 2003.
During their 2004-2005 deployment,VF-32 spent four months in the Northern Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On their last Tomcat cruise, they flew over 413 combat missions and dropped 21 tons of ordnance ensuring the first successful Democratic election in Iraq. The Swordsmen returned to home port on April 18, 2005 transitioning to the FA-18F Super Hornet and re-designated VFA-32.
From November 2007 to December 2010 VFA-32 left Oceana and embarked on the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) for two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation New Dawn (OND) and Coalition Maritime Security Operations (MSO), providing continuous CAS and tactical reconnaissance for Coalition ground forces throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. The Swordsmen maintenance professionals worked over 21,000 man-hours on 12 FA-18F aircraft that resulted in an impressive 98.57 percent sortie completion rate.
VFA-32 achieved the Safety “S” for the outstanding performance and mishap free operation during the work up cycle and deployment in 2009- 2010. VFA-32 holds an impressive record of aviation safety, flying 7,193 extremely high tempo mishap-free hours. The Swordsmen earned the 2010 and 2012 Secretary of the Navy Safety Excellence Award.
In 2013 VFA-32 once again deployed on July 22 aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Throughout the deployment, VFA-32 flew a total of 2,349 sorties encompassing 6,390 flight hours. Additionally 4,500 pounds of ordnance was expended in support of U.S. and Coalition ground forces forward deployed to Afghanistan. On April 18 the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) pulled back into Norfolk, Virginia thus concluding the 2013-2014 deployment.
In 2015 VFA-32, along with the rest of Carrier Air Wing THREE, moved to the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). On June 1, 2016, VFA-32 deployed abroad the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). Upon entering the 5th Fleet AOR, VFA-32 was tasked to Strike at the heart of ISIL. In total VFA-32 flew over 150 combat sorties in support of Coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. VFA-32 led Carrier Air Wing THREE in delivering 284,016 pounds of precision-guided munitions on Da’esh targets in support of OIR. On Dec. 30 the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) pulled back into Norfolk.
Since their inception, the Swordsmen have carried the fight to the enemy in eight consecutive decades. In every instance, they have responded with pride, professionalism and deadly accuracy. The Swordsmen have a proud tradition of service with honor, an unrivaled spirit, and unmatched dedication. The Swordsmen will continue to meet all challenges head-on. Committed to excellence, we are proud to go where duty calls.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 34
“Victory in Combat.” The Blue Blasters provide power projection around the globe ensuring fused ordnance on target and on time. The squadron achieves unrivalled success through teamwork, communication and a commitment to excellence. Blue Blasters continually strive to minimize the risks inherent in their profession to protect the life and welfare of every Blaster.
As a front-line strike fighter squadron, the Blue Blasters directly participated in World War II, the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam conflict, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. The squadron has flown eight aircraft types from the decks of 26 carriers.
Today, the Blue Blasters of VFA-34 are the premier Sailors of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 and Strike Fighter Wing, Atlantic. They expertly fly and maintain the venerable F/A-18C Hornet.
From 2010 to 2011, VFA-34 prepared for and embarked upon a Western Pacific combat deployment with CVW-2 and
Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9 aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). While on deployment, the VFA-34 Blue Blasters led the air wing in ready for tasking (RFT) aircraft, earned “Top Hook” recognition the entire deployment and cemented their reputation as the most prepared and well-trained maintenance department in CVW-2.
As a part of CVW-2 embarked aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), the Blue Blasters spent six months forward-deployed in the Western Pacific, the Gulf of Oman and the North Arabian Gulf to support combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participating in operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn, VFA-34 supported the objectives of U.S. Central Command and 5th Fleet.
The primary objectives of flight operations while on station were to conduct power projection and close air support, the engagement of enemy forces in close proximity to friendly forces. The Blasters supported Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and coalition forces by executing air-to-ground gun attacks, conducting low-altitude, high-speed shows of force, and providing armed overwatch of allied positions and patrols. Mission success was achieved through extensive communications and coordination between the pilots overhead and the forces on the ground.
In March 2011, the Blue Blasters returned home for a compressed sustainment period until August 2011. During sustainment,
VFA-34 embarked aboard USS Eisenhower (CVN 69) off the coast of Virginia for a carrier qualification detachment. In August 2011, VFA-34 began the 2011 deployment workup cycle and departed to NAS Fallon, Nevada, for a compressed two-week air wing detachment. After a short visit at home, the Blue Blasters headed west again for the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTEUX) off the coast of California aboard USS Abraham Lincoln. In December 2011, the Blue Blasters made the journey to San Diego to once again on-load with CVW-2 aboard USS Abraham Lincoln for their next combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Blue Blasters spent the first seven months of 2012 forward deployed once again to the Western Pacific, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While deployed VFA-34 won the CVW-2 Top Hook three out of four line periods, resulting in Top Hook honors for the entire deployment. The Blasters also won the Retention Excellence Award, EAWS pennant, Blue “M” and “H” Gold Star Medical/Health promotion awards, the Golden Wrench Award and the prestigious Battle “E” award.
During deployment in 2012, the Blue Blasters flew 2,001 sorties, including 479 combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and amassed 4,978 flight hours. The primary objectives of these flight operations were power projection and CAS. Upon completion of their highly successful, eight month combat deployment, the Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana on Aug. 7, 2012. From September 2012 to the end of the year, VFA-34 conducted unit level training.
The VFA-34 Blue Blasters began 2013 with a carrier qualification detachment aboard USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77). The Blasters were able to re-qualify 14 pilots and log 100 traps over the two day period. Their carrier qualifications included four day and two night arrestments on the three wire flight deck of the aircraft carrier. The next phase of training included the Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program at NAS Key West, honing their air-to-air combat skills and building on the knowledge that is required to excel against today’s air-to-air threat.
The Blue Blasters continued unit level training at NAS Oceana throughout the remainder of winter 2013 and into the spring, when it held its 70th anniversary. More than 100 former Blue Blasters returned to NAS Oceana to attend the squadron’s 70th reunion, hosted by current officers of the Blue Blasters. In September, the squadron detached to NAS Fallon for Air-to-Surface training. Pilots were able to carry and drop live ordnance to include the successful employment of multiple smart weapons at the Top Gun bombing range, as well as plan and execute multiple Large Force Employments.
During that following November, the Blue Blasters embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). While aboard, the Blue Blasters re-qualified 21 pilots for their Carrier Qualification and conducted five Large Force Strike exercises while performing two weeks of cyclic operations. The Blue Blasters finished out the year with Unit Level Training at NAS Oceana, Virginia.
The Blasters began 2014 continuing a workup cycle for the RIMPAC Exercise. The Blasters first detached to NAS Fallon for Air-to-Surface Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program. Pilots were able to carry and drop live ordnance to include the successful employment of multiple smart weapons at the Top Gun bombing range, as well as plan and execute multiple Large Force Employments. The Blasters then participated in TSTA embarked aboard CVN-76. As a part of TSTA, the Blasters completed carrier qualification and cyclic operations training for an upcoming Naval Exercise. VFA-34 concluded the workup cycle detached to NAS Fallon for Air Wing training with all of CVW-2 completing Large Force Employment Strikes.
The Blasters departed San Diego June 12 aboard CVN-76 to participate in RIMPAC. The Blasters along with all of CVW-2 supported operations consisting of 22 nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. The Blue Blasters flew an incredible 446 sorties for 824.4 flight hours. Additionally, 100 percent of the weapons employed were all guided and fuzzed, to include: 97,000 lbs of air-to-ground ordnance, 2,747 rounds of 20mm, 11 rockets, three AIM-7, two AIM-120, two AIM-9 and one AGM-84K SLAM-ER. The Blasters returned to NAS Oceana Aug.11.
The Blasters concluded the year with a CVW 2 detachment NAS Key West, honing their air-to-air combat skills and building on the knowledge that is required to excel against today’s air-to-air threat.
The VFA-34 Blue Blasters began 2015 completing unit level training during the months of January through April. In May the Blasters traveled to NAS Fallon for Air-to-Air and Air-to-Surface training. Pilots were able to carry and employ live ordnance to include multiple smart weapons at the Top Gun bombing range, as well as plan and execute Large Force Employments. The Blasters then participated in TSTA aboard CVN-76. As a part of TSTA, the Blasters completed carrier qualification and cyclic operations training. The Blasters then embarked aboard CVN-73 to participate in Southern Seas 2015. As part of the Southern Seas deployment, the Blasters participated in Unitas Pacific and Unitas Atlantic naval exercises. The Blasters departed San Diego in September and began the deployment by completing TSTA. The Blue Blasters spent four months in support of Unitas Pacific and Unitas Atlantic Operations, safely executing 330 sorties with a 96 percent completion rate. As part of Unitas Pacific and Atlantic, the Blue Blasters flew alongside Peruvian MiG-29s and MIRAGE 2000s, Chilean F-16s and Brazilian F-5s and AMXs. The Blue Blasters returned to Naval Station Norfolk on Dec. 17, and continued unit level training in preparation for the squadrons’ next deployment.
The squadron’s unmatched readiness and enhanced operational capabilities are a tribute to the very cloth of the Blue Blaster team, its Sailors.
The Blue Blasters of today are a formidable fighting force, sporting the newest technology and tactics. Through eight different aircraft types and 26 aircraft carriers, the Blue Blasters never lost their sense of tradition. The Blue Blasters are seen and heard in the skies all over the globe flying under the call sign “Joker” as a tribute to our fighting heritage. The men and women of
VFA-34 stand ready to heed our Nation’s call.
Have Gun … Will Travel.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 37
VFA-37 has deployed 26 times on the decks of 10 aircraft carriers during 51 years of Naval Service. The Bulls have carried out the light-attack mission in the Indian Ocean, twice in Vietnam, once in Iwakuni, Japan, and made one “Around the World” cruise aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).
The Ragin’ Bulls relocated from NAS Cecil Field, Florida to NAS Oceana, Virginia, in July 1999. The next major deployment for the Bulls was the maiden voyage of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in 2000.
In December 2002, VFA-37 got underway for its second cruise aboard USS Harry S. Truman bound for the impending Operation Iraqi Freedon. On March 19, 2003, Team Bull joined its band of brothers, spearheading combat operations in the “Shock and Awe” campaign in southern Iraq before shifting focus to assisting U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
By the end of a successful 30-day air campaign, the Bulls flew more than 1,200 hours and 252 combat sorties over northern Iraq. The squadron pilots delivered more than 144 tons of ordnance and expended 9,400 rounds of 20 mm High-Explosive Incendiary ammunition. The squadron maintained a 100 percent combat sortie completion rate and an outstanding safety record. The Bulls returned home to a heroes’ welcome on Memorial Day 2003.
In October 2004, Team Bull and Carrier Air Wing Three left Norfolk, VA and headed for the northern Arabian Gulf aboard the USS Harry S. Truman. On Nov. 21, 2004, the Truman took station on the tip of the spear and, again, launched combat sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Air Wing concluded combat operations on March 18, 2005. At the completion of
VFA-37’s campaign, the squadron had flown 430 combat sorties, logging more than 2,100 hours over Iraq.
2007 marked the 40th anniversary of the Ragin’ Bulls. After completing several sustainment operations with CVW-8 the year prior, VFA-37 began workups with CVW-3 gearing up for another deployment. The Truman Strike Group departed Virginia in November, 2007 to provide support for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The squadron returned from cruise in June 2008 and earned its recognition as the top strike fighter squadron on the east coast. The Bulls’ operational excellence earned them the Michael J. Estocin Award, the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy and the CSFWL Battle “E” for 2008.
After an extended sustainment and preparations period, the Ragin’ Bulls again deployed aboard the Truman in May 2010 to continue supporting operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. During this deployment, the men and women of
VFA-37 achieved a 100 percent combat sortie completion rate and flew an additional 18 combat sorties for their fellow squadrons, thereby increasing the sortie completion rate to 105 percent, successfully supporting all missions in the skies above Afghanistan.
VFA-37 served as the lead squadron in the planning and execution of Operation Eagle Arena, a bilateral exercise with the Egyptian Air Force, and Theater Security Cooperation detachments to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, receiving State Department-level attention. These successes enabled the Ragin’ Bulls to once again win the CSFWL Battle “E” and the Capt. Michael J. Estocin awards for the second time in three years.
The VFA-37 Ragin’ Bulls charged into 2017 by embarking on a 7-month deployment in January with Carrier Air Wing EIGHT (CVW-8) aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). The squadron quickly began support of Operation Inherent Resolve, delivering fused ordnance while executing close air support, armed overwatch, and strike missions throughout the 5th Fleet area of operations. During the course of the deployment, CVN 77 and CVW-8 transitioned between the 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet areas of operations, providing OIR support from both the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf. The Ragin’ Bulls proudly flew over 1,069 deployed sorties, totaling 2,719 flight hours and amassed 279 combat sorties, while employing 328 precision-guided munitions and 1,090 rounds of 20MM. VFA-37 led the air wing with a 99% combat ordnance effectiveness rate. While conducting combat operations, the Bulls simultaneously supported two theater security cooperation exercises within 5th Fleet, sending aircraft, pilots, and maintainers to Exercise Desert Flag in the United Arab Emirates and Exercise Beacon Flash in Oman.
The dedication of the entire Ragin’ Bulls maintenance and support team ensured squadron mission accomplishment by keeping its inventory of 10 Lot 14-18 F/A-18C Hornets airborne and ready for combat. Ragin’ Bull Sailors proudly kept the squadron’s Hornets flying in lockstep with far newer Super Hornets from the other CVW-8 F/A-18 squadrons. While deployed, the Ragin’ Bulls also celebrated a significant milestone on July 1 — 50 years since its establishment in 1967 flying the A-7 Corsair.
The Ragin’ Bulls look forward to transitioning to F/A-18E Superhornets in 2018 following a successful deployment spent fulfilling the command’s mission — flying combat-ready aircraft, 24/7, anywhere in the world.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 81
VFA-81 Sunliners are an East Coast strike fighter squadron employing the F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Their mission is to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations from the sea, putting fused ordnance on target, on time, “anytime, anyplace.”
The Sunliners returned home from a Mediterranean tour in 1998, only to start another move, this time to NAS Oceana as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) of NAS Cecil Field, Florida. With detachments to Key West and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, VFA-81 proved it could train successfully in any environment. The end of workups led to the deployment aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) on June 21, 2000. The Sunliners supported operations Deliberate Force in the Adriatic Sea and Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf.
After representing the United States in the 2001 Maple Flag exercise with the Canadian air force, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, prompted the squadron’s deployment aboard USS George Washington for Operation Noble Eagle. Just a few months later, VFA-81 deployed again aboard USS George Washington in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2003, the Sunliners participated in the flight deck certification of the Navy’s then newest carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Following a period of workups, VFA-81 returned to sea June 7, 2004, this time aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67).
Between 2005 and 2009, the squadron was attached to three air wings and embarked on four aircraft carriers on deployments to areas ranging from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, to the Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf. These included a Persian Gulf deployment aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), a Partnership of the Americas deployment aboard USS George Washington and two Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf deployments aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
In 2008, the Sunliners made their final deployment flying the F/A-18C. During this cruise, the squadron flew primarily in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) in support of U.S. interests in the region, participating with allied forces from Japan and South Korea during Operation Foal Eagle 2007. On three occasions, Sunliner pilots were called on and executed short-notice, alert launches to intercept and escort Russian “Bear” bombers flying long-range missions in attempts to locate Carrier Strike Group (CGS) 11. Following the completion of a final surge readiness period, the Sunliners rejoined CVW-17 and began the process of transitioning from the F/A-18C Hornet to the Navy’s Lot 30 F/A-18E Super Hornet.
In January 2010, the squadron embarked upon USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) for a three-month, unique deployment around South America. As a part of CVW-17, VFA-81 joined the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125 “Tigertails,” Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 15 “Red Lions” and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40 “Rawhides” for Southern Seas 2010, providing humanitarian assistance to Haiti after it was struck by a devastating earthquake. The Sunliners ultimately experienced a deployment not familiar to many in the U.S. Navy. From transiting the Straits of Magellan and port visits in Brazil and Peru, to flight operations with aircraft from five South American nations, VFA-81 epitomized its own motto of “Anytime, Anyplace!”
On Nov. 30, 2010, the Sunliners met USS Carl Vinson in its new homeport of San Diego to set sail on their first combat deployment since transitioning to the Super Hornet. VFA-81 spent more than six months in the 7th and 5th Fleet AORs, supporting allied forces in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Although the primary mission was to support ground combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Sunliners were able to enjoy port visits to Pusan, Korea; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates; Manila, Philippines; Hong Kong, China; and Hawaii.
The squadron left NAS Oceana late in 2011 to meet USS Carl Vinson in San Diego for a Western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment to the 5th Fleet AOR in support of Operation Enduring Freedom again. This surge deployment came only five and a half months after the squadron’s homecoming from its last six-month combat deployment in June 2011.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 83
VFA-83 is a shore-based, carrier-deployed F/A-18E Super Hornet squadron responsible for performing the following missions: precision strike, close air support, suppression of enemy air defenses and air interdiction.
Established in 1950 as VF-916, the Rampagers have been at the forefront of American naval power for 68 years. Since transitioning from the A-7 Corsair to the F/A-18C Hornet in 1987, this squadron has been at the cutting edge of the Hornet community by expertly developing innovative practices and programs now emulated throughout the fleet. Since 2018, the Rampagers at VFA-83 continue to project power with the newer Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet. VFA-83’s ground-breaking philosophies continue to set the standard of excellence up and down the strike fighter wing flight line.
VFA-83 recently deployed with Carrier Air Wing Seven Aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in 2015-2016 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Spending a total of eight months underway, the Rampagers flew hundreds of combat flight hours and successfully delivered 349 precision-guided munitions. More impressive is that by filling combat missions with spare aircraft, the Rampagers completed more combat missions than they had been tasked to execute, effectively establishing a combat sortie completion rate of more than 100 percent. Profoundly more important than the amount of ordnance expended was the squadron’s outstanding reputation with U.S. and coalition ground forces that were continually impressed with and genuinely thankful for VFA-83’s support. The Rampagers achieved ground commander objectives with kinetic and non-kinetic effects each time they were called upon, with no collateral damage or civilian casualties. The combat success was achieved during a period in which the squadron surpassed 23 years and 90,000 Class A mishap-free flight hours.
During the period from 2016 to 2017, Rampager aircrew also participated in several detachments including Desert Flag with the United Arab Emirates Air Force, Beacon Flash with the Royal Air Force of Oman, an air-to-surface detachment at Nellis Air Force Base, and air-to-air detachments to Joint Reserve Base New Orleans and Savannah Air National Guard Base in Savannah, Georgia. The VFA-83 Rampagers continue to lead the way with sound training in between deployment cycles, paving the way for future successful joint combat operations.
VFA-83 is steeped in tradition, beginning as VF-916 flying the F4U Corsair, and transitioning to venerable and time-honored aircraft such as the A-4 Skyhawk, the A-7E Corsair and F/A-18C Hornet. The Rampagers have been a constant force throughout the Navy’s history, operating from the Mediterranean, to the Balkans, to the Middle East. The Rampagers were one of the first squadrons to successfully deliver the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).
While contributing to such operations, the Rampagers have been the recipients of a variety of awards, including 12 Chief of Naval Operation Aviation Safety awards, seven Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic Battle Efficiency “E” pennants, three Chief of Naval Operations Michael J. Estocin awards, and the Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic “Golden Wrench” award, for excellence in aviation maintenance in 2015.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 87
The Mission of VFA-87 is to provide highly motivated, mission-ready forces for operational tasking and to develop its assigned personnel.
In its previous deployment, VFA-87 set sail May 11, 2011, from Norfolk, aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 73) as part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 for a seven-month deployment in support of operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. The squadron is currently deployed again onboard USS Bush.
Flying the F/A-18A+, VFA-87 flew 385 combat sorties and nearly 4,000 hours, providing close air support and armed overwatch of U.S. and coalition ground forces. VFA-87 also executed the flawless employment of five precision-guided weapons (GBU-38s) and more than 1,150 rounds of 20 mm. Most notably, the “War Party” met ground commander’s intent 100 percent of the time. VFA-87 returned to Naval Air Station Oceana Dec. 10, 2011, completing a safe and successful seven months at sea.
After a deployment to the Arabian Gulf in 1999, the Golden Warriors returned to their first new home in more than 30 years — NAS Oceana.
The Golden Warriors left Oceana in April 2001 for the Mediterranean aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65), the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. VFA-87 left the Arabian Gulf after six weeks of Southern Watch support, beginning the long transit back to Virginia when the history of America changed forever. Following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Golden Warriors answered the call when the United States Navy responded with a massive offensive against the Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan — the birth of a global war on terrorism in Operation Enduring Freedom.
While preparing for a spring 2003 deployment to the Mediterranean, escalating tensions in the Middle East again brought the Golden Warriors to action as a member of the CVW-8 team, embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Deploying to the eastern Mediterranean five months ahead of schedule, the Golden Warriors again made history by contributing to the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In September 2005, the Golden Warriors deployed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for a second time, ensuring a successful constitutional referendum and the first Iraqi free election. They returned to NAS Oceana March 11, 2006. The Golden Warriors were awarded their first Battle Efficiency Award in 2005 and repeated with the 2006 Battle “E.” They transitioned to the F/A-18A+ in 2006.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, VFA-87 participated in various workup exercises including air-to-air and air-to-ground Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP), Tailored Ship’s Training Availability (TSTA), Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTU-EX), and Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) to prepare for its next deployment. The War Party sailed with USS Theodore Roosevelt beginning on Sept. 8, 2008, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and returned home to NAS Oceana April 18, 2009.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 103
The mission of VFA-103 is to provide carrier-based combat air power to our nation’s leaders for use across the full spectrum of conflict. Its proud war-fighting legacy dates to World War II. It carries on that tradition with highly trained, highly motivated Sailors who maintain and operate the most capable strike fighter aircraft in the world, the F/A-18F Super Hornet. VFA-103 is attached to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, which deploys aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).
The Jolly Rogers finished a seven-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2010. While deployed, VFA-103 continued its role as CVW-7’s go-to squadron for the most demanding combat and combat support missions. The Jolly Rogers led the air wing in combat operations, flying more than 1,850 sorties and nearly 5,900 hours. The squadron’s relentless effort to prepare for operations on the tip of the spear culminated in the successful delivery of 14 precision weapons, more than 600 rounds of 20 mm, and more than 80 non-kinetic shows of force/presence in direct support of coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan. The Jolly Rogers finished a four-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in July 2013 after also just completing a six-month deployment in December 2012. The Jolly Rogers are currently conducting workups for a future deployment.
The Jolly Rogers were established in 1943 as Fighter Squadron (VF) 17, where the legend of the skull and crossbones was born, flying the F4U Corsair. On April 1, 1943, in Ready Room 3 aboard USS Bunker Hill (CV 17), 100 miles off the coast of Okinawa, Fighter Squadron 17 would participate in the invasion of Okinawa, providing air support in the area. VF-17’s reputation in the Pacific Theater was well-known, and the Japanese pilots feared the sight of VF-17’s skull and crossbones-emblazoned F4U Corsairs.
Ensign Jack Ernie, a young fighter pilot in the squadron, along with his squadron mates, completed their preflight briefings and headed to the flight deck of USS Bunker Hill to man their F4U Corsairs. Jack and his fellow pilots had already shot down more than 100 Japanese aircraft and anxiously awaited the day’s opportunity. Two hours later, however, over the skies of
Okinawa, Ernie began losing engine oil. In an attempt to disengage from the fight with his crippled Corsair, Ernie was attacked by two Japanese Zeros. Without full power of his engine available, Ernie was at a disadvantage. He fought valiantly, splashing one of the Zeros before being overcome by the second. As his Corsair plummeted earthward he made two transmissions, “Skipper, I can’t get out” followed by a short pause and then, “Remember me with the Jolly Rogers!”
For his actions that day, Ernie was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Ernie’s original squadron, VF-17, was eventually decommissioned, but years later when his remains were finally recovered, VF-84 had been redesignated the Jolly Rogers. When the story of Ernie was revealed to VF-84 by Ernie’s family and upon their suggestion, Jack’s skull and femurs were encased in glass and presented to the squadron.
Flying more than nine types of fighter aircraft in the past 70-plus years, the Skull and Crossbones is the most recognized strike fighter squadron in the world. The Skull and Crossbones first flew in January 1943 on the F4U Corsairs assigned to VF-17, the most lethal Navy fighter squadron of World War II. By the end of the war, the original Jolly Rogers had racked up 154.5 kills in the skies over the Pacific, the most of any squadron during World War II. In 1946, VF-17 was redesignated VF-5B and then again in 1948 to VF-61, as the Jolly Rogers transitioned from the F4U to the F-8 Bearcat. VF-61 subsequently transitioned to the Navy’s first jet fighters, the F-9 Panther, then the FJ-3 Fury and finally the F-3H Demon, prior to the squadron’s decommissioning in March 1959.
Flying F-8 Crusaders at the time, the VF-84 Vagabonds were redesignated as the Jolly Rogers in June 1959 to preserve the tradition and history of “The Bones.” The VF-84 Jolly Rogers later transitioned from the F-8 Crusader to the F-4 Phantom and finally to the F-14A Tomcat in 1975. Following VF-84’s decommissioning in October 1995, the decision was made to retire the “Club and Cloverleaf” insignia of the VF-103 “Sluggers” and have Fighting 103 adopt the Jolly Roger insignia and the tactical call sign “Victory.” Prior to assuming the Jolly Rogers name and insignia, VF-103, commissioned in 1952, had consistently proven ready and willing to accomplish all assigned missions while flying successively more complex and more capable aircraft. VF-103 flew numerous sorties in the moonless skies over Vietnam and achieved the only night MiG kill of the entire conflict.
The Skull and Crossbones has now moved on to its fifth home in order to preserve the rich history and multiple achievements of all Jolly Rogers, spanning four generations and four fighter squadrons. VF-103 made its last deployment flying the F-14B Tomcat in 2004 aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), conducting missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the squadron transitioned to the FA-18F Super Hornet in February 2005, becoming redesignated VFA-103.
The Jolly Rogers of VFA-103 continue to exemplify the naval aviation traditions of excellence and professionalism. The squadron’s lineage can claim two chiefs of naval operations as former commanding officers — Cmdr. Tom Hayward was a VF-103 CO in 1964 and Cmdr. Jay Johnson became Victory One in 1981. The Jolly Roger emblem still flies on the tail of the most recognized and history-rich fighter squadron in naval aviation — a squadron that is ready for any challenge that lays ahead.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 105
The mission of VFA-105 is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. It does so by launching the Navy’s best-trained pilots in the Navy’s most combat-ready aircraft, anywhere in the world, at any time, to bring precise, lethal effects upon our nation’s enemies. The squadron flies the F/A-18E Super Hornet and is attached to Carrier
Air Wing (CVW) 3 aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
VFA-105 Gunslingers returned from a deployment in December 2010, aboard USS Harry S. Truman. During their seven-month deployment, the Gunslingers provided air support for operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn, flying more than 7,278 hours, including 4,450 combat hours in 705 close air support sorties. While on deployment, VFA-105 enjoyed port calls in France, Greece, Bahrain and Dubai, and participated in the Hyeres Air Show and Dissimilar Air Combat Training against French Rafales and Super Etendards, Jordanian F-16s and Egyptian Mirages.
VFA-105 was originally commissioned as Attack Squadron (VA) 105 on May 1, 1952, at NAS Cecil Field and was known as the “Mad Dogs,” flying the venerable AD-1 Skyraider. The squadron was then decommissioned in 1959. On Nov. 1, 1967, VA-105 was recommissioned at NAS Cecil Field, flying the new A-7A Corsair II. The Gunslingers embarked on their first deployment aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) to Southeast Asia, participating in combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin from January to October 1969. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s the squadron made deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean aboard USS Saratoga (CV 60) and USS Forrestal (CV 59). In May 1973, the squadron transitioned to the A7-E, and became known as “Echo Drivers.”
On Jan. 10, 1991, VA-105 was redesignated VFA-105 as the squadron transitioned from the A-7E to the F/A-18C Hornet. The Gunslingers reported to CVW-3 aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) on Sept. 1, 1991, and made their first Hornet cruise from October 1992 to April 1993. VFA-105 deployed aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) to the Mediterranean and North Arabian Gulf from October 1994 to April 1995.
The Gunslingers then embarked aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) from November 1996 to May 1997, participating in Operation Deliberate Guard over the skies of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Southern Watch in the Arabian Gulf and over Iraq.
In November 1998, the squadron deployed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65), participating in Operation Desert Fox, an intense four-night combat operation over Iraq, as well as operations Southern Watch and Deliberate Forge over Bosnia. Two months after returning home, the squadron changed homeports and began operations at NAS Oceana.
VFA-105 completed another highly successful deployment to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf in May 2001. The squadron complemented CVW-3 aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), which embarked on its maiden voyage Nov. 28, 2000, from Naval Station Norfolk, in support of Operation Southern Watch.
In 2006, VFA-105 transitioned from the F/A-18C to flying the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Known once again as Echo Drivers, the Gunslingers deployed in their new aircraft in November 2007 for a seven-month cruise on USS Harry S. Truman.
After an extended workup cycle, the Gunslingers deployed again aboard USS Harry S. Truman for another seven-month cruise in support of operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. VFA-105 returned from cruise in December 2010, and entered a prepare-to-deploy order (PTDO) for four months to provide support while VFA-195 transitioned to Super Hornets. After stepping down from their PTDO, the Gunslingers entered their maintenance phase and prepared to start workups again in spring 2012.
In 2013 through 2014 VFA-105 once again deployed aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Inherent Resolve.
In June 2016 VFA-105 deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) on a seven-month combat deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
VFA-105 has distinguished itself many times since its commissioning. Notable awards include the McClusky Award, eight Battle “E” awards, three CNO Aviation Safety “S” awards, nine Squadron Armed Forces Service Medals, three Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals, one Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, as well as numerous “Golden Wrenches,” Navy Unit Commendations and Meritorious Unit Commendations.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 131
The mission of VFA-131 is to be combat-ready to project power both ashore and at sea with the F/A-18C, to defend the fleet against air and sea threats, and to carry out other missions that may be assigned. The Wildcats are attached to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 for deployments aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).
The Wildcats deployed in February 2013 onboard USS Eisenhower to the north Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During the back-to-back deployments, the Wildcats flew over 2,000 sorties and 450 combat missions, equating to more than 2600 hours in country supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. The professionalism and incredible talent of the maintainers working day and night to ensure mission readiness resulted in a 100 percent combat sortie completion rate. Upon return to homeport, the Wildcats were awarded the USS Eisenhower’s Captain’s Cup Trophy for the second consecutive deployment. In addition, they were awarded the 2014 Battle “Efficiency” Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, and the 2014 “Grand Slam” Award.
In November 2014, the Wildcats transferred to Carrier Air Wing THREE and from June to December 2016 deployed aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. The squadron flew 328 combat missions, encompassing over 2,200 hours in direct support of coalition forces. During those missions the squadron employed 269 precision guided munitions, totaling 213,000 pounds of ordnance. The Wildcat’s blue-collar mentality and tireless work ethic enabled an outstanding 100 percent combat sortie completion rate. The Wildcats also continued to show their professionalism and aviation prowess by winning the “Top Hook” award as the best ball flying squadron in the Air Wing for the 2016 deployment.
The Wildcat War Machine closed out the fall of 2017 with a historic milestone: After nearly four decades as a Legendary Hornet squadron and 27 years with the F/A-18C, the Wildcats bid farewell to their final F/A-18C and began transitioning to the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Through VFA-131’s incredible dedication to mission accomplishment, the legendary Hornet made its mark on naval aviation as the workhorse of the strike fighter community. One team, one fight!
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 143
VFA-143 has a clear purpose: To support the foreign policy of the United States, as both an instrument of diplomacy and a weapon of war. To accomplish this mission, VFA-143 employs the F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as part of Air Wing (CVW) 7.
VFA-143 deployed twice on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2009 and 2010 with a short five-month turnaround between deployments. During both deployments the Dogs supported Operation Enduring Freedom, providing kinetic and overwatch support to coalition troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The Dogs led the air wing in 2010, earning “Top Hook” three out of four line periods as well as all of deployment. For their exceptional achievements during these deployments they earned the 2010 Naval Air Force Atlantic Battle Efficiency, Wade McClusky and 2011 Secretary of Defense Maintenance (Phoenix) awards.
VFA-143 then embarked on USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for their most recent deployment from November 2015 to July 2016. The Pukin’ Dogs conducted strikes in Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. On this record-setting deployment, the Pukin’ Dogs dropped a staggering 422 bombs while maintaining the highest standards of safety and advancement. Their hard work and tireless efforts again earned them the Comnavairlant Battle “E” Award for 2016.
In more than 60 years of faithful service, the Sailors of VFA-143 have answered the call around the world. Their quiet professionalism has earned them numerous fleet awards, citations, MiG kill and air-to-ground strikes in every platform they have flown and in every area of responsibility. They enjoy a rare, rich heritage and close relationship with the former members of the squadron called the “ODF” (Old Dogs Forever).
The unit has received numerous awards over its history. Of note, it has earned seven Naval Air Force Atlantic Battle “E” awards, five Aviation Safety “S” awards, two Strike Fighter Air Readiness Program trophies, the Tactical Reconnaissance trophy, the MUTHA trophy, and the Chief of Naval Operation’s Rear Adm. Joseph C. Clifton Award. It was also nominated for the Arleigh Burke Award in 1990 and the Department of Defense Phoenix Award in 1990 and 2010. The Pukin’ Dogs are commanded by CDR Christopher J. Pacentrilli.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 211
The mission of VFA-211 is to fly, fight and win in support of our nation’s objectives. The Checkmates launch the nation’s finest and most tactical aviators in the world’s most combat-ready aircraft, defending our nation and its vital interests around the globe. They apply lethal and decisive aerial combat power against our enemies wherever and whenever our nation calls.
VFA-211 employs the F/A-18F Super Hornet. It is one of four strike fighter squadrons in Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1. The squadron returned July 15, 2011 from a six-month deployment aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in support of operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom. Just a few short months later, the Checkmates began preparing to deploy again in March 2012 for the last combat cruise of the Enterprise. The Fighting Checkmates of today follow a long squadron history of fighter and bomber aircraft serving our nation’s interests around the globe.
In 2000, Fighter Squadron (VF) 211 joined USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) for the Millennium Cruise. Over a four-month period in the Arabian Gulf, the Checkmates led the way, conducting 16 precision strikes in support of Operation Southern Watch.
The year 2001 brought tragedy to our nation with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, and, as always, the Checkmates were called upon to respond. They deployed again in CVW-9 with Carrier Air Wing 9 in an accelerated schedule that had VF-211 aircraft flying combat missions over Afghanistan by Christmas. The Checkmates left their mark on Operation Enduring Freedom and during a three-week battle named Operation Anaconda where, as the only F-14 platform available, they flew day and night sorties to defend coalition special forces and eliminate al-Qaida resistance. For their precision and innovation in strike warfare, they were selected as the coveted Vice Admiral “Sweetpea” Allen Precision Strike Award winner for 2002. The Checkmates returned after flying 1,250 combat missions and began their transition to CVW-1.
VF-211’s performance in 2002 was recognized throughout the fleet. For their achievements they were awarded the West Coast Battle “E” for battle efficiency by Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet; the Grand Slam for excellence in air-to-air employment by Commander, Naval Air Force, Atlantic Fleet; and the Clifton Award for the most outstanding overall performance in battle efficiency and employment by Commander, Naval Air Forces. The Checkmates deployed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in October 2003 in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The squadron flew more than 450 combat hours during October, November and December, aiding the ground efforts in both theaters.
VFA-211 completed its transition to F/A-18F Super Hornets in March 2005. Upon its return to NAS Oceana, VFA-211 became the first operational East Coast Super Hornet squadron. The Fighting Checkmates were called back into combat immediately after the transition and left in 2006 to support troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The Checkmates returned home for a brief break in operations and then deployed again in 2007 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In early 2008, the squadron transitioned to Block II Super Hornets. In January 2011, the Fighting Checkmates deployed once again on USS Enterprise in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as well as Operation New Dawn in Iraq. The Fighting Checkmates returned in July and almost immediately started workups again for the following deployment in March 2012. The epic “last ride” for the Enterprise was an eight-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The squadron logo depicts a character known as “Brutus” holding a rocket, from the original logo for VB-74. Eleven stars are arranged in groups of seven and four to mark the squadron’s numerical designation, 74. The shield recalls the squadron’s 16-year association with the F-8 Crusader. Since its establishment, VFA-211 has completed 40 deployments. Today, the Fighting Checkmates excel in the mission areas of counter-air, aerial reconnaissance and strike warfare. VFA 211 is now, as always, at the tip of the spear.
STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON (VFA) 213
The mission of the Blacklions is to execute effective combat power wherever and whenever the country calls. They do this by employing fuzed ordnance, on target, on time, anywhere the nation demands. To accomplish this mission the squadron strives to achieve and maintain efficient operational readiness and to maximize combat effectiveness.
The Fighting Blacklions of VF-213 were commissioned on 22 June 1955 at NAS Moffett Field, California. The now famous “BLACKLION” insignia consisting of a lion surmounting the constellation Leo against the dark night sky was chosen to depict the environment of the all weather/night fighter squadron. The Blacklions flew the F-2H3 Banshee during their first deployment aboard USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31). They transitioned to the F-4D Skyray for their next two deployments on USS Lexington (CVA-16), including the final WESTPAC of the Skyray. By their third WESTPAC deployment aboard the “Lex,” they were flying the F-3H2 Demon, which gave the squadron the capability to shoot the newly released AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile.
In June 1961, the squadron moved to San Diego, California where they were based at NAS Miramar: “Fightertown USA,” deploying three times aboard the USS Hancock (CVA-19). Three years later, in February 1964, the Blacklions took a huge step forward in fighter capability by accepting the first of their new F-4B Phantom II. This deployment marked the first use of the Phantom as a conventional bomber. In the span from 1966 to 1975, VF-213 completed nine combat deployments aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-64) with Carrier Air Wing ELEVEN (CVW-11) and dropped over 14,000 tons of ordnance, and downed one North Vietnamese AN-2 COLT aircraft. In March 1971, VF-213 became the first fleet squadron to fly the Phantom more than 1,000 hours in a single month.
In December 1976, VF-213 transitioned to the Navy’s premier supersonic fighter, the F-14A Tomcat. After two cruises aboard the USS America (CV-66) in the early 80’s, 213 completed six WESTPACs, culminating in the fall of 1989, VF-213 and CVW-11 went around the world on USS Enterprise’s (CVN-65) final WESTPAC deployment. The Blacklions deployed in 1991 on the USS Abraham Lincoln’s (CVN-72) maiden WESTPAC cruise in support of Operation Desert Storm. Following four deployments with the Lincoln, VF-213 switched back to their old home onboard the USS Kitty Hawk, after which they flew across the country to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became permanently stationed at NAS Oceana. In December 1997, VF-213 completed its transition to the F-14D and moved to the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).
On Sept. 11, 2001, the Blacklions were preparing to enter the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch when terrorists attacked New York and Washington D.C. The Blacklions headed to the Northern Arabian Sea and released the first bombs in Afghanistan against Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets on October 7th, 2001, beginning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), ultimately dropping over 200 tons of ordnance. Less than a year later, VF-213 was back in the fight in Operation Iraqi Freedom aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). In March 2006, the Blacklions were re-designated VFA-213, transitioning to the FA-18F Super Hornet. In 2011 the Blacklions participated in the USS George H.W. Bush’s (CVN-77) maiden deployment flying combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2014, VFA-213 aboard the USS BUSH, participated in the opening strikes to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria beginning Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). In 2017, VFA-213 again embarked on the USS Bush with Carrier Air Wing EIGHT
(CVW-8). With just 99 days of combat operations, the Blacklions successfully employed over 250 tons of ordnance on enemy targets, an amount unseen since Vietnam, including the first ever section combat drop of
10 GBU-32 1,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions from each aircraft.
Over the course of VFA-213’s history, no matter where the war was fought or what aircraft the Blacklions were employing, the aircrew, maintainers, and families of VFA-213 have continuously embodied true fighter spirit. Whether performing air superiority and interdiction missions in Southeast Asia or striking deep into enemy territory in support of operations in the
Middle East, the Blacklions are proud to continue their history of leading the country’s most demanding missions.