ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, At Sea (NNS) -- Sleek, agile, fast and deadly, the F/A-18 is as much a predator as it is a machine. One of the most versatile assets the Navy possesses, the Hornet is capable of acting as both a fighter and strike aircraft.
But as intimidating a weapon as it is, the F/A-18 is nothing without the men and women who fly it; men and women like the naval aviators of Strike Fighter Squadron 37 (VFA-37), one of three Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3) squadrons who fly the Hornet.
The Bulls of VFA-37 have been aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) before, making the carrier's maiden deployment, and have seen first-hand the combat value of the aircraft they fly. "It's a multi-role aircraft that can do anything it's asked to," said VFA-37's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Norb Szarleta. "It carries every piece of ordnance the Navy has for air-to-air and air-to-ground strikes."
The Hornet's ability to fill any number of roles, including suppression of enemy air defense, and day and night strike missions, make it a valuable military asset. However, extensive practice is required if this aircraft is to be used to its full potential. For this reason, the Bulls have spent the last year training, honing their skills to ensure that when the time comes, they are ready to carry out any tasking. "Our mission is to project power ashore or at sea in support of national policies," Szarleta said.
Following deployment, VFA-37, much like HST, experienced an influx of new personnel, making the current training cycle extremely important if the Bulls are to equal the success of their last deployment with the carrier. "We've had a very large turnover," said Szarleta. "Half of the pilots we have now haven't seen cruise before."
To help prepare these new aviators for the upcoming deployment, VFA-37 started with the basics. For the last several months, the Bulls have been concentrating on unit level training. "This training serves as a building block for our aviators," Szarleta said. "We weren't integrating any of the other squadrons in the air wing. We were just getting our own squadron ready."
Fortunately the new aviators are learning with the help of a solid supporting cast. "The troops are working hard to provide the pilots with full-up, combat-ready aircraft and equipment every day," said Szarleta. "This makes our job as pilots easy. We couldn't do our job without them."
Last week, with the beginning phase of their training cycle behind them, the Bulls returned to HST, to participate in Tailored Ship's Training Availability (TSTA) I/II. "This is very important for us," said Szarleta. "It is the first chance for us to really work together with the air wing as a whole.
It's also the first step in getting ready for deployment"
According to Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Hyink, VFA-37's safety officer, TSTA also offers the VFA-37 aviators a chance to reinforce the skills they have been working on since their last carrier deployment. "It allows us to continue building fundamentals," he said. "We work on the basics. Once these are in hand, we can turn up the heat and get more complex."
Following TSTA, the Bulls will experience a significant jump in the intensity of their training. "After this underway, we're headed for Fallon, Nev., for advanced air warfare training," Hyink said. "All the squadrons will meet and practice strike warfare."
The importance of the time VFA-37 and the rest of CVW-3 spends in Fallon cannot be underestimated. "It is the first time the air wing really works together in practicing more complex tactics," said Hyink.
Szarleta considers Fallon a significant milestone in the squadron and CVW-3's training cycle. "Fallon is our first really big test as an air wing alone," he said.
After their time in Nevada, VFA-37 will once again return to HST, this time for the carrier's Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX). "Hopefully during COMPTUEX, we'll practice what we learned in Fallon on the ship," Hyink said.
The fact that VFA-37 has been with HST for nearly three years, means that the Bulls will be practicing on a ship they feel is a home-away-from-home. "We have a really solid relationship with HST," said Hyink. "We feel kind of at home. We're really established."
Szarleta agreed with Hyink's assessment of the VFA-37/HST relationship. "I can't think of a better place to be," he said. "We're really fortunate to be here."
Given the mission of the carrier, to project power and provide air support wherever and whenever necessary, HST is fortunate to have VFA-37 on board. The aircraft flown by these aviators are essential to any strike package.
Despite the fact they fly one of the most recognized, important and combat-valuable aircraft in the world, the Bulls insist they are just happy to be working with HST and CVW-3. "We're just part of the team that helps carry out the mission," said Szarletta.
Still, the Bulls' commanding officer couldn't help but let a little bias show through. "It (the F/A-18) is a great airplane to fly," Szarleta said. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."
For more information on Strike Fighter Squadron 37, go to www.vfa37.navy.mil.
For more Harry S. Truman news, visit their NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn75.