Story sub-arc starts here

‘New day, new site, new mission.’

‘Well, kind of’ thought the CICO as he prepared for landing. ‘Wonder what luck we’ll have with this change in venue…’

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 field…

“Hi KT – 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 we’ll have to rely on Hato’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 – you’re not going to believe what they look like, it sure isn’t Roosey Roads…” the XO continued “First two missions are tonight, I’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 haven’t received clearance from the host country so we’ll have to try the back-up station. And last item, we have a quick get together with the local charge d’affairs this afternoon at 1300.”

“OK, got it – 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. I’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 lion’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, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news…”

‘Oh how I hate taking phone calls that start like this,’ he thought.

“The good news is your CO’s tour is going to be about 6 months longer than normal, the bad news is you’re also going to be the last CO…”

And like that the executioner’s blade had fallen.

“No chance of a reprieve Commodore?” he’d asked, already knowing the answer.

“’fraid not – the budget geniuses in DC think it can be done 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 we’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 – 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 – any word on the TACAN” he asked as they walked to the Maintenance trailer.

“Yes – and the answer was no, Air Force said we weren’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-2’s would be limited to radar approaches in IMC conditions as they would not be able to utilize the VOR at the field – CODs had VORs, but E-2s still didn’t…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 they’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 – since it is a civilian hotel with a beach, umm, ‘Riviera’ rules prevail for dress code, such as it is…”

As the CO of the first fleet E-2 squadron to have women assigned (What was the term they used? Oh yeah, ‘gender normed…’ ) this was a complication he hadn’t planned on.

“OK, I’ll join up with the CMC and we’ll figure out what to do”

Later that day, after a prolonged visit with a charge d’affair who was incensed that he hadn’t been consulted 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-27’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 moment’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 this…” drill.

After a bit the XO and a couple of the pilots joined him and each put up their thoughts – 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 “gotcha’s” A part of him stood to the side and smiled inwardly – 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 XO’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.  He’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 – 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 – as he was sure the opposition would once they became aware of the squadron’s change in venue.  For now, though, hopefully, surprise should be on their side.   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 they’ll come out tonight…’ he thought.

To Be Continued…

4 Comments

  1. A most compelling read as always, sir. Meaning no disrespect, may I just say that I think it was a truly assinine decision on the part of Washigton to order an entire squadron (?) to come to an untimely end…especially in that part of the world. However, that’s only one person’s opinion. Then again, I have always thought that it is, indeed, a dangerous decision to decrease the size of our Military.

    I await the next installment.

    Veritas et Fidelis Semper 🙂

  2. Steeljawscribe

    You should have heard what…the CO… said behind some not so closed doors about the same idea. 😉
    -SJS

  3. The repeating sound of doors slamming shut for the final time is what prompted me to get off at the wrong stop. The proverbial straw was when BRAC recommended closing Cecil Field, known as the Master Jet Base, outside Jacksonville, FL. It was surrounded by nothing but miles of pine trees in the crash zones for the dual intersecting runways. The base that won that coin toss was NAS Oceana which was and is surrounded by homes, schools, malls, churches – you get the picture. It was obvious that politics was overruling reason in the draw-down.

    I had the pleasure of flying CD out of Key West and GITMO but those were the early days of Joint Ops and it was a real cluster. VS-28 was part of the CVW-6 team that disappeared as you mentioned (one of the doors). We weren’t sexually integrated yet (is that a PC term?) so the “Riviera” scene caught me completely off guard – beer out the nose kind. The excited greeting complete with Jello jiggle – priceless! Not so much at the time I suppose. I would imagine that the policy incubator never anticipated THAT little bit of reality.

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