Story sub-arc starts here
â€˜New day, new site, new mission.’
‘Well, kind ofâ€™ thought the CICO as he prepared for landing. â€˜Wonder what luck weâ€™ll have with this change in venueâ€¦â€™
Settling to the runway, the Hawkeye made the midfield intersection and turned for the transient ramp. At the far end it, it was led to its parking spot by a plane captain and shut down. Disembarking, the CICO was met by another aircrewman.
“Hi Skipper, welcome to Curacao.”
The Steeljaws were in town and things were going to be a little bit different in the counter- drug ops fieldâ€¦
“Hi KT â€“ how’re we looking?” the CO asked.
“As planned, the two trailers you see are our OPS/Maint facilities, the weather gear will arrive later this week with the weather team from SOUTHCOM, so weâ€™ll have to rely on Hatoâ€™s civilian facilities for a while.”
At that, the CO made a mental note to stress OPSEC to the crews using the facilities for getting weather info.
“The troops are bedded down in quarters â€“ youâ€™re not going to believe what they look like, it sure isnâ€™t Roosey Roadsâ€¦” the XO continued “First two missions are tonight, Iâ€™ve got the early one that catches the opening of the window and you follow, Ops O has the alert” He frowned slightly and added “we still havenâ€™t received clearance from the host country so weâ€™ll have to try the back-up station. And last item, we have a quick get together with the local charge dâ€™affairs this afternoon at 1300.”
“OK, got it â€“ by the way, 603 is back up and available out of Roosey tonight if anything goes down farther north. The dome and interceptor P-3s arrived in Roosey last night too. Iâ€™ll hit maintenance and ops real quick, then we can get on with the business at hand”
For the last year and one-half, VAW-122 had taken the lionâ€™s share of VAW CD operations following the decommissioning of the Forrestal and the squadrons of CVW-6. Originally they too had been on the chopping block until the powers that be were convinced that by using the squadron to pick up the majority of that commitment, it would ease the OPSTEMPO burden on the other VAW squadrons, East and West coast. Such was the case when he took the call from the AEW Wing Commander a month before the end of their 6 month deployment to GTMO (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) the previous year.
“XO” he started, “Iâ€™ve got good news and Iâ€™ve got bad newsâ€¦”
‘Oh how I hate taking phone calls that start like this,’ he thought.
“The good news is your COâ€™s tour is going to be about 6 months longer than normal, the bad news is youâ€™re also going to be the last COâ€¦”
And like that the executionerâ€™s blade had fallen.
“No chance of a reprieve Commodore?” heâ€™d asked, already knowing the answer.
“â€™fraid not â€“ the budget geniuses in DC think it can be doneÂ cheaper using a mix of Reservists and contractor maintenance.”
“You know what I think of that plan sir” he replied. Images of staffing papers and long briefs swam before his eyes.
“I do and it was well articulated up the line, but this is the hand weâ€™ve been dealt. The other good news is you guys are going to be operational pretty much to the end and there are some unique ops JIATF and SOUTHCOM want to try with you all, so it will be an interesting and fun-filled time” he finished that last part with a short laugh.
And so here he found himself â€“ the bulk of his airplanes forward deployed with a small maintenance det and the rest of his squadron back in Roosey Roads on the final deployment of the squadron.
“XO â€“ any word on the TACAN” he asked as they walked to the Maintenance trailer.
“Yes â€“ and the answer was no, Air Force said we werenâ€™t going to be here long enough to justify a mobile TACAN setup” he replied.
“Typical” was his short response which pretty much encapsulated what he thought of some aspects of the support they were receiving from SOUTHCOM for this endeavor.
Without a TACAN, the E-2â€™s would be limited to radar approaches in IMC conditions as they would not be able to utilize the VOR at the field â€“ CODs had VORs, but E-2s still didnâ€™tâ€¦that would be another item to emphasize at the all aircrew meeting later that day. Fortunately the weather this time of year was such that theyâ€™d be able to conduct VMC approaches at night and not have to worry too much about. Still, diverts were a good distance away and prudence was the order of the day.
“Umm, Skipper, one other thing you should know before you get over to our quarters â€“ since it is a civilian hotel with a beach, umm, â€˜Rivieraâ€™ rules prevail for dress code, such as it isâ€¦”
As the CO of the first fleet E-2 squadron to have women assigned (What was the term they used? Oh yeah, â€˜gender normedâ€¦â€™ ) this was a complication he hadnâ€™t planned on.
“OK, Iâ€™ll join up with the CMC and weâ€™ll figure out what to do”
Later that day, after a prolonged visit with a charge dâ€™affair who was incensed that he hadn’t been consultedÂ by SOUTHCOM on what was going on, a visit to the Dutch commander who was the NATO permanent presence on the island and CO of a SAR outfit flying Fokker F-27â€™s, and a long call with Wing Ops and the Commodore, he returned to the airfield and sought a chair in the corner of the ready room where he could enjoy a momentâ€™s respite and concentrate on this new twist in their mission. He studied the charts closely, imagining each island, each landmark and how it would show up on radar. He put himself in the shoes of the presumed smuggler and ran through a “if I were trying thisâ€¦” drill.
After a bit the XO and a couple of the pilots joined him and each put up their thoughts â€“ where to station, how they could optimize time on station, what if the alert had to be launched out of Roosey, where the Customs and DEA aircraft were, ROE, and a host of other issues. The plan that emerged was explained by the CO at the all aircrew meeting. He emphasized OPSEC and comms discipline, something that at times their cohorts on the civilian side seemed to readily dismiss. Sensor management, especially with the radar was going to be key because of some changes to normal SOP. Careful attention was paid to airways structure, expected traffic patterns and potential “gotchaâ€™s” A part of him stood to the side and smiled inwardly â€“ this was what he had always wanted and enjoyed, the close camaraderie of the ready room and the privilege of leading fellow aviators in exploring new mission areas and territory. Discussion was open, free-flowing and a wealth of ideas assessed.
Later, as the shadows of the day lengthened, he watched his XOâ€™s crew man up for the early go, and thought back to the first flights under Operation Thunderbolt and how the mission areas and OPTEMPO had changed. A gentle on-shore breeze cooled the early evening air.Â Heâ€™d crisscrossed the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, flown from and over the southeast US to the Lesser Antilles to Central and South America and literally knew this part of the world like the back of his hand â€“ almost as intimately as he had become with the Mediterranean. He thought of the ones that got caught, but like many a fisherman, more so of the ones that got away.
As the Hawkeye took off and climbed out he watched its departure â€“ as he was sure the opposition would once they became aware of the squadron’s change in venue.Â Â For now, though, hopefully, surprise should be on their side.Â Â As it disappeared in the distance he tossed a mental gauntlet down, daring them to come out this evening and headed back in the trailer to place the call to the AOC watchcenter desk, listen to the net and prepare for his own flight later.
‘Wonder if theyâ€™ll come out tonightâ€¦’ he thought.
To Be Continued…
Article Series - Reflections: Smuggler's Blues
- Reflections: Smugglerâ€™s Blues (I)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (II)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (III)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (IV) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (V) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VI) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VII) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (VIII)-Convergence
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (IX)-Conclusion