CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (NNS) -- It is the middle of the night, and you are flying high over Western Afghanistan. It's barely a month after the tragedies of Sept. 11th, and a determined nation has sent its armed forces to bring justice to those who instigated the attacks. You are among them.
You are aboard the EP-3E, the Navy's highly-advanced reconnaissance aircraft. In a matter of hours, the sun will be rising over the Hindu Kush mountains far to the northeast. But now it is dark, the only light an eerie red glow emanating from the plane's extensive suite of navigational and surveillance equipment.
Suddenly, there is a flash. Then another. It is enemy fire, and it is meant for you and your crew. You are defenseless; the EP-3E is big and slow, limited in its evasive maneuvering capability. You draw in your breath and wait. Seconds seem like hours. Then, at last you realize they missed. The threat passes. You exhale and continue on... you have a mission to complete.
Such is a day in the life of a crew member of VQ-1. The "World Watchers," after all, are no strangers to combat. Stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, VQ-1 has maintained a permanent presence in the Arabian Gulf since 1992, following Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
In those conflicts, the squadron amassed an impressive 1,400 combat flight hours with a 100 percent mission completion rate. Missions ranged from strike support to combat search and rescue, to communications and over-the-horizon targeting.
VQ-1 continued to prove its mettle in Operation Enduring Freedom, augmented by sister squadron VQ-2 based out of Rota, Spain.
In the words of Capt. Harry Harris, former Commodore and Commander Task Force 57, "VQ-1 has flown in harm's way more than any other Task Force 57 squadron since Operation Enduring Freedom began and has aggressively met critical reconnaissance needs in this time of war."
Today, flying the venerable EP-3E, VQ-1 maintains a permanent detachment in Misawa, Japan, in addition to its home base at Whidbey and its presence in the Arabian Gulf. Its area of responsibility, in fact, reaches from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the United States, roughly two-thirds of the world's surface.
Every day, the squadron conducts crucial reconnaissance missions in the vital U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command areas of responsibility, flying in every climate to provide national- and theater-level collection in support of the nation's war fighters.
So what makes the World Watchers able to maintain their vital tasking around the clock? Ask any member of the aircrew, and they'll tell you it's the vital support they receive from the rest of the squadron.
"There is no way we would be able to fly without the team effort of everyone at VQ-1," said Lt. Joseph Levy, a World Watcher pilot. "The maintainers work extremely hard, in grueling conditions, to ensure our planes are always ready to fly. Our intelligence department works all hours to make sure we have the information we need to conduct our missions. These are just two examples of the help we get every day. The list is endless."
Keeping the squadron's 30-year-old planes in the air is not always an easy task, especially in Bahrain. Working in a brutal desert climate with the heat index frequently soaring above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the work of a maintainer is harsh.
Despite the hardships, however, those entrusted with keeping up the aircraft are motivated about their work. In the words of Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Timothy Adams, "Outside of home, there is no place I'd rather be."
This seems to reflect the mood of the entire squadron. Everyone at VQ-1 knows they're part of a vital mission and are eager to jump to the task.
It is, after all, just part of being a World Watcher.
For related news, visit the Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander U.S. 5th Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cusnc.