Thursday, December 18, 2008

Checkmates Fly from Iraq into Sunset

By Clark Pierce, Naval Air Station Jacksonville Public Affairs

Two S-3B Vikings assigned to the "Checkmates" of Sea Control Squadron Twenty Two (VS-22) conduct an airborne refueling, during routine flight operations from aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). George Washington Carrier Strike Group is currently participating in Partnership of the Americas, a maritime training and readiness deployment of the U.S. Naval Forces with Caribbean and Latin American countries in support of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) objectives for enhanced maritime security. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Christopher Stephens)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- The Sailors of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 22 returned to Naval Air Station Jacksonville Dec. 15 after completing a five-month deployment to Al-Asad Air Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Their boots-on-the-ground and eyes-in-the-sky deployment in Iraq, required that VS-22 pilots, aircrew and maintainers operate in a very dangerous environment, substantially different to the conditions they normally encounter as a carrier-based platform.

To meet the demands of this mission, each of the 205 "Checkmates" completed anti-terrorism and desert survival training, in addition to qualifying with the M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol, prior to their deployment.

The large Al Asad Air Base (formerly Saddam Hussein's premier MiG-25 Foxbat air base) is located south of the Euphrates River in the volatile, largely Sunni, Al Anbar Province in western Iraq.

The squadron brought four S-3B Vikings to Al Asad, each equipped with the latest LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation Targeting Infrared for Night) navigation pod. LANTIRN is a terrain-following radar that enables pilots to maneuver and surveil at low altitudes during daylight or at night. According Lt. Jason Tarrant, the squadron flew about 80 percent of its non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (NTISR) combat missions at night.

"The Viking's LANTIRN infrared capability was invaluable for taking away the cover of darkness from enemy combatants," said Tarrant. "The Checkmates routinely detected heat signatures of vehicles, shelters, people and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) –and relayed that information to convoys and combat teams in the affected area."

The Checkmates flew an average of three sorties a day.

"Our VS-22 maintenance personnel displayed tireless dedication to keep these soon-to-be-retired birds mission ready. As far as I know, we sustained a 100 percent sortie completion record," said Tarrant.

VS-22 is the Navy's last S-3B Viking squadron. Disestablishment activities are scheduled for Jan. 28-30.