MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) -- The “Jolly Rogers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103 held a change of command ceremony in the air above the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), Apr. 14.
Cmdr. Patrice Fernandes relieved Cmdr. Danny Westphall as commanding officer of VFA-103 in a ceremony attended by command Sailors as well as Sailors from the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (ABECSG). Sailors gathered on the flight deck to observe Westphall and Fernandes launch and fly two of four F/A-18F Super Hornets from VFA-103. The aircraft flew in formation symbolic to the change of command between the two pilots. Westphall served for 15 months as commanding officer of VFA-103, preparing the squadron for deployment with ABECSG.
Westphall, a native of Georgia, received his commission through Officer Candidate School in 2001. He earned his wings of gold as a Naval Aviator in December 2003 and received orders to the “Greyhawks” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120. He deployed twice with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In February 2011, Westphall deployed twice with CVW-1 in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom. Westphall has accumulated more than 3,100 flight hours and more than 650 arrested landings.
“It’s bittersweet leaving the Jolly Rogers right at the beginning of deployment,” Westphall said. “I’d love to see the deployment through and see what great things this squadron can do, but I know the squadron is going to be in good hands with Cmdr. Fernandes.”
Fernandes served as the executive officer of VFA-103 under Westpahll and now, as the commanding officer, will lead the squadron on her deployment with ABECSG. Fernandes enlisted in the Navy in August 1988. He started his naval career with Training Wing (TW) 3 as an aviation structural mechanic. In November 1998, he was selected to attend officer candidate school under the “Seaman to Admiral” program and was designated a naval flight officer in September 1999. Fernandes has accumulated more than 4,000 hours in various aircraft and more than 1,300 arrest landings over his career.
“As a prior enlisted Sailor, this is probably the greatest thing for me,” Fernandes said. “I went from fixing airplanes to flying airplanes and now I get command of a Strike Fighter Squadron, so it’s the best thing ever.”
VFA-103 is comprised of F/A-18 Super Hornets that provide ABECSG with strike fighter capability. The squadron completed workups with the strike group for months to prepare for this around-the-world deployment with Abraham Lincoln.
“I asked my team at the beginning of our workups to build on each step of the workups and get better every time, and they’ve done that,” Westphall said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes and we’ve taken each step of the workup cycle and gotten better and better to where we are right now — on an aircraft carrier at sea, in the Med on deployment.”
Flying over nine different types of fighter aircraft in the past 63 years, the “Jolly Rogers” first flew in January 1943 while assigned to VF-17 during World War II. By the end of the war, the original Jolly Rogers had 154.5 kills in the skies over the Pacific.
The squadron shifted to the F/A-18 Super Hornet in February 2005 and became re-designated as VFA-103. They most recently embarked with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While deployed, they fired more ordnance than any squadron in naval history at about 490 pieces.
VFA-103 and ABECSG are deployed in support of maritime security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th, 6th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deployed strike group assets to include staffs, ships and aircraft of CSG 12, Destroyer Squadron 2 (DESRON 2), USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW 7); as well as the Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate ESPS Méndez Núñez (F 104).
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.