Thursday, March 26, 2009

Electronic Attack Squadron Returns from Afghanistan

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tucker M. Yates, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest

OAK HARBOR, Wash. (NNS) -- Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 133 returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom March 14 and 21.

The Wizards of VAQ-133 reported to Bagram Airfield in September with 180 Sailors for the 175-day deployment.

"This is my second deployment within about a 14-month period, and most of the people in the squadron are in that same turnaround, so we went back to a mission we had done before and were all familiar with," said Cmdr. John Ward, VAQ-133 commanding officer. "We knew what we were getting into and had the right attitude."

The Wizards maintained a 100 percent mission accomplishment rate during the deployment, conducting 550 sorties, logging approximately 1,800 total combat hours through the combined efforts of their maintainers and air crews.

"It was great. Everybody performed just like they were supposed to, and teamwork was outstanding," said Senior Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate (AW) Jimmy Flores, VAQ-133 command senior chief. "We had no problems on the maintenance side of the house. Their conduct was great and morale is high."

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is the best maintenance department in naval aviation. We didn't miss a single sortie, and we had good 'up and safe' jets the whole deployment," added Ward.

VAQ-133 made an impression both on- and off-duty while not only lending 12-hour shifts, providing their electronic attack support to combatant commanders and troops on the ground, but also volunteering at the local Bagram Airfield Hospital.

"I have some folks that like to use their free time in a manner that helps out the locals. There was always work to be done at the hospital; it's the biggest in Afghanistan," said Ward. "Working every day for the squadron and the mission and then finding time while they're off duty to help out local nationals that are in the hospital, I'm very proud of them."

The Wizards also had multiple distinguished visitors during their tour, including then-President George W. Bush and Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations. The support shown by these visits cemented the squadron members' belief in their contributions being appreciated.

"It's nice to feel appreciated and wanted. Every visitor would ask how the squadron was doing, what we needed, and how morale and the troops were," said Ward. "Being a Navy squadron in Bagram is not like a typical Navy squadron; most squadrons are on ships. Being in that focus and that level of mission readiness with ground forces and then having all the senior leaders come out and appreciate it, made me, and everyone between me and my young airmen, proud. They notice us and the great work we're doing."

Command ombudsmen, Connie Williams and Shauna Atkinson, offered a significant amount support to family members of deployed Sailors.

According to Selena Dziura, wife of Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class(AW) Derek Dziura, of Burlington, Wash., the ombudsmen were "phenomenal," and sent out e-mails to keep everyone informed.

"We had quite a few group sessions, there were one or two every month," said Dziura, "and everyone was welcome."