Friday, December 11, 2009

'Red Lancers' coming home - After high-tempo deployment, VP-10 relocates

By Lt. j.g. Sean Kearney, VP-10 Public Affairs Officer

Following their six-month deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and a detachment to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, Africa, the 'Red Lancers' of VP-10 will soon finalize their homeport change from NAS Brunswick, Maine to NAS Jacksonville.
Safely conducting over 650 mishap-free flights amounting to more than 4,000 flight hours, the Red Lancers proved to be expert operators as they utilized the full spectrum of P-3 warfare capabilities.

During its split-site deployment, the squadron conducted missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), maritime security operations and anti-piracy missions to protect American's maritime interests in the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. The Red Lancers conducted multiple joint military operations and exercises, established course rules for coalition flight safety, combated piracy, and built diplomatic bridges to foster international relations.

Red Lancers in U.S. 5th Fleet (CENTCOM)
Upon arrival at the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR), the squadron began operating in direct support of multiple task forces to help counter the insurgency and improvised explosive device (IED) operations in Iraq. VP-10 also supported maritime security operations involved with OEF - including one combat aircrew that aided in the seizure and destruction of more than 10 tons of illegal narcotics. The crew provided timely and detailed intelligence to international naval forces, which allowed them to apprehend a dhow (an Arab boat) transporting nearly $70 million worth of narcotics.

The Red Lancers also flew multiple sorties in direct support of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Strike Groups, and USS Bataan (LHD 5) Expeditionary Strike Group.

Unit exercises such as Shamal 0901, 0902 and 1001 allowed VP-10 to display its capabilities as a maritime patrol and airborne intelligence asset supporting maritime security operations in the 5th Fleet AOR.

Though equipped to perform a variety of missions, the P-3C aircraft flown by the squadron is primarily an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platform. Participating in multiple coordinated ASW training exercises allowed them to maintain previously unseen levels of proficiencies and qualifications while on a "desert" deployment. A tactical ASW exercise was held with the Nimitz strike group to measure the squadron's and strike group's joint capabilities, skill levels and preparedness.

While deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, the Red Lancers forged relationships with the U.S. Air Force, which operates the base. VP-10 worked with Air Force personnel to coordinate the Red Lancers Maintenance Department relocation from permanent facilities into expeditionary facilities.

Spearheaded by VP-10, the new maintenance facilities were constructed mainly by members of the squadron during off-duty hours.

This large evolution simplified the base's VP deployment transition process. VP-1, the relief squadron for VP-10, was the first to use the new facilities. The Red Lancers received material assistance as well as construction and infrastructure installment help from the Air Force, which helped to further understanding of the forces' differences of operations. VP-10 left the maintenance facility fully operational, greatly enhancing VP-1's ability to perform effectively from the start of their deployment.

Deploying to an Air Force base also provided the squadron with several social and competitive opportunities. Besides sharing common facilities such as berthing and galleys, the groups shared inter-service athletic rivalries where the Red Lancers established their appetite for winning.

The July 4th Freedom Festival Championship consisted of "picnic games" where the Red Lancers' determination and skills took the trophy. In August, the base Commander's Cup competition began with VP-10 heavily involved in the good natured rivalry. At the close of the competition in September, VP-10 secured the championship by defeating an Air Force team in a heated battle of ultimate Frisbee. The Commander's Cup Trophy was presented by Al Udeid Air Base Commander Brig. Gen. Stephen Wilson.

In the "biggest loser" weight-loss competition, two Red Lancers placed second and third while the squadron lost a combined 2,500 pounds. These competitive events served to boost squadron morale, pride and unity - as well as foster friendships between the Navy and Air Force.

Red Lancers in U.S. 6th Fleet (AFRICOM)
VP-10 flew missions in support of OEF and maritime security operations in the 6th Fleet AOR. One of many Red Lancers objectives was to help counter the influence of Al Qaeda throughout the Horn of Africa and to slow the prevalence of piracy in the region. Piracy has become the main focus of the AOR, as several notable events made international news.

The Red Lancers operated primarily out of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, Africa. This small nation is well-suited geographically for multi-national maritime security operations - as it is located on the Gulf of Aden near the southern entrance to the Red Sea. Coincidentally, the Red Lancers shared the ramp with P-3 Orions of three other nations - Germany, Spain and Japan - and participated in true coalition building that strengthened the friendships between allied nations.

VP-10 pilots acknowledged the hazards of operating from such a remote site, which spurred their creation of "course rules" - a set of procedures for approaching the airfield that facilitated safe operations. Course rules were necessary due to the lack of radar at the facility, poor navigational aids in the region, and language barriers inherent with coalition joint operations.

The Red Lancers also provided direct maintenance and mission support to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), because their presence in Djibouti is the first forward-deployed Japanese military force in over 60 years. VP-10 aircrews helped indoctrinate other coalition crews on the unique missions and geography of the region.

In the coalition's war against piracy, a steady flow of information between the allied nations proved invaluable. Besides working together, several social events within the maritime patrol community fostered many new friendships and professional bonds. Also, cross-flights helped the different aircrews understand the capabilities and attributes of other nations' aircraft.

Accomplishments by the Red Lancers in the 6th Fleet AOR will pay dividends as they are relieved by VP-26 in the crucial war against a new breed of terrorists.

Superior Maintainers
With one of the best maintenance departments in the maritime patrol and reconnaissance community, the Red Lancers' mission completion record stands near 100 percent. Squadron maintainers rise to every readiness challenge - whether it's a complete engine change, an electronics system problem or an errant fault indication - to allow squadron operators to excel.

Despite a sandy, hostile environment, maintainers' steadfast dedication allowed the squadron to add training exercise flights to improve the already excellent reputation of the Red Lancers. As VP-16 Commanding Officer Cmdr. James Robinson said, "We can't do anything without good birds. We can't get on station, we can't do missions. We are nothing without our maintenance department."

Community Relations
In addition to the military operations, VP-10 took great pride in building community relationships within their host nations. Many events were organized by the squadron to represent both the United States and the Navy with pride, professionalism and compassion. In Doha (the capital of Qatar), Red Lancers' Flight Surgeon, Lt. Melissa Darlington, held several breast cancer awareness briefs to the benefit of many women.

In Djibouti, squadron visits to a boys' orphanage led to many pick up soccer and basketball games while building friendships. At a local baby orphanage, Sailors provided diapers, bottles and clothing and other supplies. They also volunteered three to four days a week to help feed, change and play with the children.

In another initiative, VP-10 was able to solicit a massive donation of 270 boxes of clothing from Carter's Inc., a popular children's clothing retailer. The clothes, filling nearly eight cargo pallets, were distributed to the rural residents of the African nation.

Job Well Done
In addition to operational requirements, the Red Lancers conducted an unprecedented amount of training. The squadron designated 10 officers as mission commanders.

Seven officers qualified as patrol plane commanders, those naval aviators responsible for the safety of the aircraft and its crew.

Six officers qualified as tactical coordinators, who direct the utilization of sensors, aircraft systems, and crewmembers for maximum mission effectiveness.

Three junior naval flight officers qualified as navigator/communicator. Among the enlisted members of the squadron, 26 qualified as enlisted aviation warfare specialists, three as quality assurance representatives and 35 as collateral duty inspectors. Among the enlisted aircrew, one qualified as a flight engineer, one as a sensor station three, and two others as in-flight technicians.

The Red Lancers will redeploy well ahead in overall pilot training, a key marker for squadron readiness. This is considered a tremendous achievement and will pay dividends as the squadron returns to its new home in Hangar 1000 at NAS Jacksonville to prepare for its next deployment.