Friday, October 23, 2009

VAQ-139 Returns to NAS Whidbey Island

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

OAK HARBOR, Wash. (NNS) -- The Cougars of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 returned to Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island Oct. 20-22 after a five-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

The Cougars deployed aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) May of this year attached to Carrier Air Wing 14.

While in theater, air crew members from VAQ-139 were afforded the opportunity to cross train with expeditionary squadron VAQ-134, the Garudas. According to Lt. William Buhl, of VAQ-139, from Syracuse, N.Y., who participated in the exchange for approximately three weeks, the opportunity to fly the improved capability (ICAP) II EA-6B Prowler of VAQ-134 versus the ICAP III Prowler of VAQ-139 and seeing how ground Prowler missions operate was good experience.

"One of the benefits of the expeditionary mission is you take off and you're immediately there and providing support; already in the fight, so to speak," said Buhl. "It was also good just to meet other people in the community."

"It really benefited us because we got the chance to go see how they operate doing strictly ground operations and, for the (VAQ) 134 guys, it gave them the opportunity to see how we operate and do business on the boat. It was basically a cross-pollination between an expeditionary and ship squadron," said Cmdr. Daryl Walker, VAQ-139 commanding officer.

VAQ-139 flew a total of 1350 flight hours, 850 of which were flown in direct support of OEF as a result of 115 combat sorties, leading to a 100 percent combat sortie completion rate.

"For the Cougar team it was a great combat deployment; another successful year for us, and we went and did the job we were supposed to do," said Cmdr. Chris Middleton, VAQ-139 executive officer.

Over the course of the deployment, Reagan conducted four port visits to Singapore, Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates, Phuket, Thailand, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Upon departing Hawaii, Reagan embarked approximately 800 friends and family members, 46 of which were with VAQ-139, for a six-day cruise back to San Diego before returning to NAS Whidbey Island. The "Tiger" cruise offered two air shows, approximately 60 fly-offs, night and day live-fire events, Explosive Ordnance Disposal fast-roping demonstrations and a basketball court set up in the hangar bay, among other games and activities.

"The Reagan may have put on the best tiger cruise I've been on," said Middleton, who embarked three family members for the cruise. "The morale, welfare, and recreation team really did a great job. It was incredible."

According to Walker, a deployment isn't over until you get everyone home safe and sound.

"The deployment was superb. The troops did everything that was asked of them; we didn't fail in any part," said Walker. "We brought everybody back that I took out, which, to me, makes the cruise successful."