NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. – After a nine-month deployment supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, the Zappers of Electronic Attack Squadron 130 (VAQ-130) will return to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia embarked on board USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on April 17 and 18.
On Thursday, April 17, the pilots and their electronic warfare officers will fly the squadron’s five EA-18G Growlers back to NAS Whidbey Island from the Harry S. Truman. VAQ-130 is the second carrier based squadron to deploy with the EA-18G, the Navy’s newest Electronic Attack aircraft and the fourth aircraft in the squadron’s long and distinguished combat history.
Squadron support and maintenance personnel will reunite with their families in time for the Easter weekend when they arrive on Friday, April 18 via airlift from Norfolk, Va.
“The real heroes of this deployment are the families of VAQ-130 and our Sailors,” said Cmdr. Jeff Chism, VAQ-130’s Commanding Officer. “They have endured over 400 days of separation since we began preparations for deployment back in September of 2012. I am humbled by their service to our nation and proud to serve alongside them.”
The Zappers are attached to Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) which is commanded by Capt. George Wikoff. The squadron left NAS Whidbey Island on this combat deployment in July 2013 following a delay the previous February due to a force change posture in the Commander 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR).
Flight operations began off the coast of Virginia, followed by the long trek halfway across the Atlantic Ocean to the Azores where the Zappers continued training missions.
In transit to the 5th Fleet AOR, the Zappers conducted flight operations off the coast of Spain, France, Italy and Greece, while enjoying a wonderful port call in Marseille, France.
Upon entering the Suez Canal, the Zappers entered the 5th Fleet AOR and relieved the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in the Gulf of Oman in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
CVW-3 and the Zappers supported joint and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan for approximately seven months before being relieved by the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). During that time, VAQ-130 flew 226 combat sorties executing 1,596 combat hours over Afghanistan and received ample positive feedback for their support to the ground commander in Afghanistan.
“This is my fourth combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom since it began back in 2001,” said Cmdr. Eric Illston, VAQ-130’s Executive Officer. “I am proud to serve our troops on the ground, I know many of them will come home safe because of the support given by the Zappers and we wish them a quick return to their families at home.”
Chism said these lengthy missions, at times spanning eight hours in duration, were enabled by the hard work of the men and women of VAQ-130. The squadron learned a great deal about maintaining, flying and operating the Navy’s newest electronic attack platform with Carrier Strike Group 10 and their joint partners. In addition to supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, the Zappers conducted joint flight operations with the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, in January 2014, which reinforced cooperation between the U.S. and its French ally.
During this deployment the squadron earned the 2013 Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic Battle “E”, 2013 Commander Naval Air Forces Admiral Arthur W. Radford Award, 2013 Chief of Naval Operations Safety “S” and 2013 Blue Medical “M” Award.
Although VAQ-130 spent most of their time working aboard the Harry S. Truman, they did make three port calls each in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Manama, Bahrain. A final and well-deserved port call was in Palma, Spain, at the conclusion of flight operations in 6th Fleet.