SOUTH CHINA SEA (NNS) -- In early June, the "Bluetails" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 departed their homeport in Norfolk to meet the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in the Pacific Ocean, as Carrier Strike Group 11 (CSG 11) began its deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility (AOR).
This marked the second deployment of the U.S. Navy's most sophisticated airborne early warning aircraft, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
After arriving in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR, the Bluetails proved to be a critical element to Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and the fight against the Islamic State. The squadron provided early warning detection of potential threats, air intercept control, and airspace management for coalition aircraft executing defensive counter air (DCA) combat air patrols in the skies above friendly troops.
Bluetail aircrew launched from Nimitz in the Arabian Gulf, pushing "feet dry" (over land) into Iraq and making a long transit deep into country. They provided hours of radar and radio coverage of the battlespace, controlling F/A-18 Hornets from within their own carrier air wing, as well as joint assets such as the U.S. Air Force's F-15E Strike Eagle and F-22A Raptor.
"It's an incredibly impressive feat, watching the Bluetail team at work," said Cmdr. Michael Finn, commanding officer of VAW-121. "When we departed Norfolk, none of us expected to be executing this mission. Despite this, every single Bluetail, from the most junior Sailor on up, was prepared to excel at it, and certainly has."
This deployment is no small accomplishment for the Hawkeye community at large, as it marks the first time in 26 years an E-2 Hawkeye executed the combat DCA mission. The last occurrence was Jan. 17, 1991, when an E-2C Hawkeye controlled air-to-air intercepts for two F/A-18C Hornets, resulting in the shoot-down of two Iraqi MiG-21/Fishbed aircraft in the opening days of Operation Desert Storm.
"Flying the E-2D into combat and seeing how incredibly well the aircraft performs has been a humbling and rewarding experience," said Lt. Austin Wiggins, a naval flight officer and squadron assistant training officer. "We trained so hard throughout work-ups for an opportunity just like this, and all of the training finally paid off."
The Bluetails executed 133 combat sorties totaling 1,028 hours in support of OIR during the last three months.
"The maintenance effort required to provide fully mission capable combat aircraft on a daily basis is massive," said Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman David Granger, the squadron's maintenance master chief. "Our Sailors execute the near impossible day in and day out, with tremendous pride in their work."
Capitalizing on the strengths of the new variant of the airframe, combined with the ingenuity and skill of the Bluetails' aircrew and maintenance team, VAW-121 helped ensure air superiority in the skies over Iraq and Syria. This has allowed the U.S. Navy's coalition partners to execute an extraordinarily successful campaign to drive ISIS out of Syria and Iraq.
Although the Bluetails have departed the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR, their legacy of unwavering professionalism and dedication to the mission will not soon be forgotten. They have redefined the standard for combat excellence across the airborne command and control community, and continue to prove the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is every warfare commander's most versatile and lethal weapon in any fight.
For more information about the "Bluetails" of VAW-121, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/airfor/vaw121/Pages/default.aspx
For more information about Carrier Strike Group 11, visit http://www.nimitz.navy.mil/csg_11.html or www.facebook.com/carrierstrikegroupeleven
For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/csg11/.