ABOARD USS CARL VINSON, At Sea (NNS) -- On December 12, 2001, the "Blue Diamonds" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146 of Carrier Air Wing 9 began their first night strikes into Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
For distinguishing itself as the most successful of all fighter and fighter-attack squadrons who conducted air-to-ground missions in support of OEF, the F/A-18 Hornet squadron has recently been awarded the Rear Adm. Clarence Wade McClusky Award by the commander of Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
This is the second time the Blue Diamonds have received this award, named for the Enterprise Air Group Commander at the Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942. On June 4, according to Navy history, McClusky (then a lieutenant commander) made a critical decision to fly the reverse of the expected enemy course, even with many planes in his attack group low on fuel and the enemy fleet nowhere in sight. This decision led directly to the discovery of the Japanese carrier force, and the subsequent destruction of two carriers by McClusky's group.
Continuing the legacy of McClusky's air group, VFA-146 substantially impacted the combat operations of OEF from USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), amassing more than 3,500 flight hours and delivering more than 102,000 pounds of ordnance, with an unmatched 100 percent detonation on target.
"Last year, of all the weapons we dropped, every one fused and every one of them hit the target. That doesn't normally happen," said VFA-146 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Ray Hoffmann. "It took a team effort. It took the ordnance guys, the ATs (aviation electronics technician), the AEs (aviation electrician's mate) ... if someone didn't do their job, then we wouldn't have been able to do what we did. If one bomb duds, you're not 100 percent anymore," he said.
The commander of the air wing, Capt. Donald Quinn, also praised the role the Blue Diamonds played in Operations Enduring Freedom and Anaconda and expressed his views on the importance naval aviation plays in the nation's war on terrorism.
"Power projection is what we're all about in naval aviation, so in my opinion, they're the cream of the crop in terms of being able to put ordnance on target," he said. "What makes this even more special is the fact that the award was received in a year of combat, and a majority of the ordnance was in direct support of troops on the ground."
The Blue Diamonds' leadership pinpointed its personnel's pride, professionalism and teamwork as key elements of the squadron's success and reason for earning the McClusky award.
Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Steve Duval said the McClusky award served as a reminder to his shop's junior Sailors that their daily efforts didn't go unnoticed.
"We're happy we got it," he said. "It took a lot of hard work, long hours and going the extra mile with troubleshooting to get it. We take a lot of pride and professionalism in our work."
"Behind this award is our team concept," said Chief Warrant Officer Joseph O'Brien, VFA-146's gunner. "It was not only one work center that did it. It was everyone together. Everything we do is a team effort, and that's nurtured from the commanding officer down."
The Blue Diamond team spent seven months deployed with Stennis, and just a few months later, they began preparations for its current deployment with the Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Battle Group. Though the crew has been working under a compressed schedule of operations for more than a year, the attitude among the squadron remains positive.
"It's a good learning experience," said Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Derryl Porter. "(Last deployment) was long and tough, but we're a great team. We work together, and we get the job done."
As they shift gears from combat operations in Afghanistan to bilateral exercises in the western Pacific, VFA-146 Sailors still put forth the same effort that won them their most recent award.
"We understand that this is where the country needs us right now. Everyone today is just as much focused on their jobs as they were on last deployment," said O'Brien.
The Blue Diamonds, home based at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, Calif., are currently deployed with the Carl Vinson Battle Group in the western Pacific as part of America's standing commitment to maintain peace and stability in cooperation with allies and friends in the region.
For related news, visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn70.