EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (NNS) -- The "Grim Reapers" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 held a change of command ceremony July 2 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
During the ceremony, Cmdr. James D. Christie relieved Capt. Frederick E. Crecelius as the commanding officer of VFA-101, the first F-35C Lightning II squadron in the Navy.
Capt. David E. Koss, commodore, Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, presided over the transfer of leadership.
Since Crecelius assumed command of VFA-101, VFA-101 has surpassed all expectations in the continued establishment of the Navy's first F-35C squadron; overseeing the acceptance of the first 17 F-35C aircraft in the fleet and ensuring that all pilots and maintainers were adequately prepared to support inaugural flight operations. During his tenure, he orchestrated the growth of VFA-101 from an initial unit of 70 motivated Sailors to an organization with more than 400 F-35 active duty military members and Lockheed Martin professionals.
Beginning his career with VFA-137 "Kestrels," Christie deployed twice aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV 64) in support of Operation Southern Watch before reporting to the "Flying Eagles" of VFA-122 as an FA-18E/F flight instructor and landing signals officer. After a one-year tour, he attended Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and received his follow-on assignment to Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific as a strike fighter tactics instructor specializing in combat systems. Before reporting for his next assignment, he graduated from the Naval War College with a master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Additionally, he completed an individual augmentee assignment to the force strategic engagement cell as lead strategist for Shia insurgent reconciliation in Baghdad.
In January 2011, Christie reported to the "Black Knights" of VFA-154 as the squadron's executive officer. He immediately deployed for Carrier Air Wing-14's sunset eight-month deployment in support of Operations Tomodachi, New Dawn and Enduring Freedom aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). In May 2012, Christie took command of VFA-154 and led the squadron through work-ups and another deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). In September 2013, Christie reported to Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center as TOPGUN's commanding officer.
Christie has logged 3,000 flight hours in the F/A-18 A-F and has accumulated more than 800 arrested landings.
Christie said that he is "thrilled to lead the 'Grim Reapers' into their next chapter. Capt. Crecelius led VFA-101 brilliantly and leaves an enviable legacy behind. It is an honor and privilege to continue his fine work, and to join the exceptional team he has assembled, to successfully integrate F-35C into fleet operations."
VFA-101 is the F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron, training Navy aircrew and maintenance personnel to fly and repair the F-35C, a fifth generation fighter that combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.
By 2025, the Navy's aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) air vehicles, MH-60R/S Sea Hawk helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.
Since June 1942, "Grim Reapers" has served as the nickname for three different squadrons - Fighter Squadron (VF) 10, VF-101 and now Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 - flying various aircraft, including the F4F Wildcat, the FG1-D Corsair, the F-4 Phantom, the F-14 Tomcat and currently the F-35C. The "Grim Reapers" flew combat missions in the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Korean War and at various times since World War II, served as trainers for future naval aviators joining the fleet.
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