With the recent press of the
Soviet Russian carrier group coming out of hibernation for a Med sortie, we thought it was about time for another Reflections series – this time finding our gallant scribe back at sea after his first shore tour at Naval Postgrad School. This time he is on a second sea tour as a senior LT with VAW-126 and on JFK’s 1986-87 winter Med deployment. Did we also mention he was selected to participate in the community’s experimental NFO Copilot program?
Post landing was always a zoo. First there was the tension of the approach, increased as it were in bad weather or at night – or as the case was here, under modified EMCON conditions where we were late and second to last to land with the off-going tanker right behind. In the back there was a kind of organized chaos as the NFOs went about their various post flight duties, occasionally peering anxiously out their portholes but up front, the focus follies shifted from the air to flight deck as the cockpit was a blur of activity. All of which, of course, was reined over by the Boss who on this deployment aboard the mighty warship John F. Kennedy (CV 67), on this day in the Year of Our Lord 1987 in the central
“602 clear the landing area – NOW”
In the cockpit of 602 the pilot was swearing a blue streak as he simultaneously struggled with a balky nose steering gear, a flight deck whose coefficient of friction resembled something out of the south end of a northbound goose and the well-known weather-cocking effect of an E-2C with it’s wings folded; well-known it would seem to all except a certain apoplectic air boss.
In the pattern, the KA-6 which had cheated and cut the pattern a little too fine was well into the groove when the call came:
“Wave it off – foul deck”
At which point the Boss went nuclear. “Hummer Rep!” came the call and the sacrificial Tower Flower LTJG from VAW-126 went forth to be flayed alive, knowing full well by this point in the deployment the futility of trying to explain what all could readily see transpiring on the deck below. By now a tow bar had been attached to the nose gear of 602 and it had been towed out of the landing area and across the foul line. But in doing so, it had now pretty effectively locked up the deck so that when the tanker landed, it would be a while before the deck was re-spotted for launch. This, of course, added the Handler to the growing coterie of non-Hummer fans onboard the JFK at the moment.
Ripping off his helmet, “Doc” pitched it at the glare screen and swore an oath as he signaled the aircraft was down to the yellow shirt outside the plane. “G-d damn I can’t wait until this g-d damn forsaken deployment is over” he said in his Tennessean accent. Throwing a final gesture of defiance in the direction of the tower he began unstrapping from the left seat to get out of the plane.
“Hey Doc – don’t forget your mask” called the LT from behind him.
Laughing slightly he turned back for his oxygen mask. “Wilbur” he said, “Guess you pretty much might want to keep to the backend after a flight like that won’t you?”
“I don’t know Doc – guess that depends on what CAG has to say. Wish the Skipper would’ve been more specific than ‘CAG said to report to him when you get on deck’ during the turnover. Still, I could get used to this NFO Copilot thing.”
About that time the Flight Deck Coordinator met them and looking at their nametags pointed at Doc saying rather brusquely that Doc’s presence was requested in the tower, now.
The LT looked at Doc and said “On second thought…” and with that left the plane for the island and CAG Three spaces to find out what it was CAG had requested him by name for. Most times, when one is requested for a by name visit to CAG spaces, it usually isn’t good, even when it’s a decent CAG like the current one was. He had his own memories of ‘by name’ calls to visit CAG in his dwelling space in previous tours.
Like many things for this deployment, the CAG for CVW-3 was different. He was the last of the O-5 CAGs and as such, occupied a position as one of the department heads aboard ship, unlike the new “Super” CAGs who were an O-6 and in rank, and equivalent of the ship’s CO.
CVW-3 itself was something of a one-off configuration – being regarded as a “heavy” airwing, or in some circles, called the “All Grumman Airwing” – which point, of course, being vociferously disagreed to by the VS outfit flying brand L’s birds. In addition to the usual suspects – two VF outfits flying the F-14A (VF-14 and VF-32), VAQ-140 flying the EA-6B, HS-7 with the SH-3, VS-22 with the S-3B, VAW-126 with the E-2C and VA-75 with the A-6E, there were some interesting additions. These included the other A-6E squadron, this time provided by the Marines – VMA(AW)-533, a single plane det from VQ-2 with an EA-3 (hosted by VAW-126) and a last-minute cobbled together HARM det made up of the remnants of VA-66 and VA-12, two A-7 squadrons that had been decommissioned in the wake of the F/A-18 transition. They were brought along when it was realized that the HARM capability for the VAQ outfit wouldn’t be ready in time for the deployment – something that in time-honored tradition wasn’t addressed until the last few days preceding underway for deployment.
As always, there was the usual internecine warfare – the two fighter squadrons vs each other, the A-7’s vs the A-6’s, the A-7’s vs the rest of the airwing, and so forth. The Marines and the Whale det added color to the pattern – a lot of it come to think of it. The VS outfit added color in the wardroom and at foc’sl follies, to the unending grief of the CO at the hands of the big kahuna (ship’s CO). The Hummer and VQ outfit were wont to run off and do things that their special capabilities let them get away with (and help others in the airwing, like the VF outfit) for a while until they got caught, then they got put in hack. The A-6 squadrons added color to the bombing pattern – a lot of it over the airwaves and in the debrief. There was so much love in the air one would’ve thought it was 1968 all over again… Presiding over all this like a father with a deep reservoir of patience was CAG who practiced the dictum of praise in public and crack heads together in private.
Entering the Blue Tile area, the LT was very much conscious that he was still in his flight gear – as were the stares he received from the embarked CRUDESGRU staff. “Screw ‘em” he thought. With few exceptions this was one staff he wouldn’t be sorry to see go. As an E-2 NFO he’d had ample opportunity to work with a wide variety of CARGRU and CRUDESGRU staffs and warfare-types and this particular one had left him and many others less than impressed. A patch that the JOPA (Junior Officer Protection Association) had drawn up (and which was quickly banned, making it of course all the more sought after) summed up the air wing’s assessment of the embarked staff, in part, with the slogan – “Why Plan When You Can Over-React?”
Stepping into the CVW-3 office he saw the CVW-3 OPS officer and mentioned that CAG wanted to see him as soon as he had landed. No sooner had he said that than CAG appeared.
CAG looked at the LT, smiled and said “congratulations LT – I’m designating you a CVW-3 Strike Leader. And now I have a mission for you.”
Stunned, the LT was momentarily and uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
To be continued…