NFO wings

So Friday we achieved escape velocity from the Beltway for Norfolk and appearance as a guest speaker for the winging of NFO class 07-5. Hosted by VAW-120 (and Skipper — top flight production too, BZ to ALCON) the ceremony marked the official transition of the fledglings from mere students to replacement NFO’s, designated 1320’s (or 1325’s) and slated for fleet squadrons after the last part of the replacement curriculum is completed (tactics phase and NATOPS evaluation). This class was unique in that along with the nuggets were also to be found a re-tread S-3 TACCO, and representation from France and Britain. About half of the class were prior enlisted including a former nuke chief (!). To an individual though they were full of energy and smart – altogether quite different than YHS’ own class some 29 years (?!?) ago…

NFO Class 07-5

Steve & Charles – many thanks for the invite. Heard nothing but great stuff about your class and it showed in person. Also had the chance to meet not one but two P-DCAG’s, yep, VAW DCAG’s, as well as seeing some former Steeljaws (Derms!). All in all, a great day and a chance to see that the community is very much alive and kicking with a long, bright future ahead if it, especially as represented by this class.

So what did we say? Well – it started thusly:

…congratulations my friends for your achievement, and welcome to the bottom rung of the ladder.

More below the fold…

To the NFO’s of class 07-5 – first, let me pass my thanks for availing me of the all too rare opportunity to achieve escape velocity from the confines of the Beltway and be amongst the real Fleet, if only for a brief moment.

So – congratulations my friends for your achievement, and welcome to the bottom rung of the ladder. No, seriously – this is a good thing, for you see, I’m talking about the real payoff to come and what to be striving for – after, of course, the forthcoming WST sweatex’s and NATOPS Grand Inquisition; your first squadron, tactical qualification and flying in the Fleet. Because outside of being CO of a bunch of hard-charging, tactically astute and fun-loving folks, there isn’t a better job in the world than being a JO in your first squadron as long as you remember a couple of things.

First – remember your heritage. ‘Heritage?’ you ask – damn straight. VAW has a long, proud heritage that you need to be cognizant of and carry with you as you go into the fleet. As you look out on the flightline today at the latest iteration of Hawkeyes, be they the “C” or eventually “D” model, understand that those are there today because ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago there were young JO’s like yourselves who with senior officers and enlisted, established and built, advocated and pushed, pulled and fought, argued and sacrificed to make carrier-based, and let me say that again, carrier-based AEW a reality.

It began in earnest 65 years ago this month at a place not altogether far from here with an idea developed by MIT’s Radiation Lab and using borrowed equipment from RCA. At East Boston airport, group of naval officers watched as the phosphorous trace of Cape Cod and environs was etched out in a signal provided from an aircraft over Nantucket Island some 50 nm away. Barely two years later and carrierborne AEW is joining the Fleet as the first Naval Aviators (yes, Naval Aviators) and enlisted radar operators are wedging themselves into the cramped confines of TBM-3W’s onboard USS Ranger off San Diego as preparations were underway for the invasion of Japan. That war ended but demand and capabilities grew from there to Korea and Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – Cuba to Somalia, Thunderbolt to Katrina; all the other wars and crises, disasters and conflicts; from the frigid North Atlantic to the jungles of Central America and furnace of the Gulf; from a Ralph Zia putting the bag on the hijackers of the Achille Lauro to VAW-114 crews controlling waves of relief aircraft arriving at Mogadishu for Operation Restore Hope; VAW was intimately involved and playing increasingly vital roles. And in so doing, they and we established the credibility of the community, as so much more than just an airborne radar/relay mission. And in due time, you, shall too for that is your heritage – your future. Remember it – but more importantly, add your imprint and pass it along to the next generation.

It wasn’t always so, this state of acceptance. Even in the late 70’s, when I was in your place, there was still a substantial bias against the community in the fleet. That brings me to my next point – comprehensive knowledge and a missionary zeal. Old school was hard to fight – be it in the VF or VA ready rooms, in CAG’s spaces, or up in the tower. You had a couple of options then – give up and pound your head in frustration at old school ignorance or you could go forth to educate and advocate to a sometimes openly hostile audience. To be successful at the latter, you did it by being the expert not just on your aircraft but on theirs as well. And here we’re talking about a point where NATOPS is but a place to begin the journey. Let me give an example.

Since the advent of the E-2 there has always been advertisement of an overland capability – the ability of which to deliver was, well, suspect at least until the ARPS (Advanced Radar Processing System) version of the E-2C.

That would be the version prior to what is colloquially known today as the Group 0 bird for you young pups.

When I went through the RAG in 1978, I was in the first ARPS class as I was headed, to the first ARPS squadron, VAW-121, which had taken delivery in April 1977 of the ARPS E-2C’s. Well, the philosophy then was strongly biased towards tracing ‘trons through the system, in excruciating detail – from the returning signal at the antenna until it was displayed as video and computer generated symbology on the scope. Accompanying all this theory though, was some of the best basic radar scope practicum from folks raised in Fudds and Guppy Spads. Once in VAW-121, we worked hard at figuring out the overland equation – didn’t have much of a chance working with cooperative targets sitting off Iran for 8 months on the first deployment, but following our ‘82 Med deployment we wrote up a fairly comprehensive – and controversial report that given the right stationing and conditions you’d get some pretty darn decent overland automatic tracking.

Fast forward to 1986 and VAW-126 with CVW-3 on JFK. We are in the east Med and about to embark on a NATO exercise involving a lot of DACT over Turkey that was heavily stacked in favor of the other guys. The ATO had the E-2 in associated support, but in a station that was basically all but useless. As we studied the chart with our VQ-2 Whale brethren (whose det we were hosting in an unorthodox but as it turned out, exceptionally beneficial manner for the deployment) a JO-initiated plan was hatched that would put the E-2 and the Whale in position to support our fighter buds and exploit the best aspects of our systems.

How’d we do it? We’d check in with a slightly modified callsign based on one of the other squadrons – usually the tanker (remember too, this was twenty odd years ago and comm circuits were somewhat less robust than today) and proceed to our respective stations which, fortunately, happened to be in the nether regions of the exercise airspace. For the next three days it worked like a champ – the Tomcats kicked the snot out of the opposition because they were able to get the early jump based on either our radar vectors when we were covering the event or the ESM cut from the Whale when we weren’t. On Day Four though, the jig was up when our bluff was called, by no less than the Turkish general in charge of the exercise, and were unceremoniously pitched out of Turkish airspace. Since no good deed goes unpunished, a visit to CAG was in the cards immediately upon arrival back aboard JFK with the mission commanders from the E-2 (me) and Whale, along with our CO and the Whale det OIC in company. During the “debrief” our Whale buds allowed as how it was all our idea and they merely followed “because the hummers said we could do it.” Reference my last about good deeds and no punishment…

Well – because we had prepped the battlefield earlier in workups and deployment, CAG knew full well what the overland capabilities were that we brought to the table and even for an A-6 guy, didn’t tolerate too well an unfair fight, such as the exercise planners had set up. We’d also given the CO a heads-up (word to the wise) when the plot was hatched. But most importantly, the primary customers – the fighter ready rooms, acknowledged, understood and had an appreciation for what we could do for them overland – and had built confidence in practice during workups and earlier in deployment. But the ground work was laid with that advocacy and missionary zeal I mentioned earlier, built as it were on a solid base of systems knowledge and tactical employment.

One other payoff – this CAG was the first CAG to designate select VAW aircrew as air wing strike leads. How radical was that? If you thought Luther’s 95 theses were received with, shall we say, restrained enthusiasm by the Establishment, you may well imagine how this development was similarly received. Recognize that knowledge is sometimes slow in coming – Consider the seeds you sow now and what you will reap in the future…Small victories to be sure, but they add up – and they don’t happen by osmosis.

Remember your roots – you are, after all, naval flight officers. That is what separates us from Brand “X.” Your class make up is radically different than mine was in ’78 in more ways than one, with the chief difference being how many of you have prior service – all 6 of my classmates were all NROTC or AOC grads – no prior service in the lot. Still it is all too easy to get insulated behind the airwing firewall. The great thing about the VAW community is that by our nature, we had to be joint before joint was “cool.” In my day that meant we had get out and about and have a working knowledge of the small boys to include the NTU cruisers and this radical new kid on the block called Aegis – and figure out how they were going to fit in the battle group. How were we going to play together? Expanding on that theme, it was the same with NATO AWACS, Harpoon-carrying B-52’s, integrating Sea Harriers (brand new then) into the outer air battle and the like. Look around you – by the time you hit the fleet there will be similar concerns. What about all the different flavors of JSF? Allied Aegis? What about this growing mission of theater ballistic missile defense? And the complexity, if not the esoteric nature of the problem only grows the further out one looks. By the way, a window into that complex, new world is found in the new Maritime Strategy, released this past October. If you’ve read it – you’ll understand what I’m talking about, if you haven’t, well – you’re behind the power curve…

At the risk of imposing further on your good manners and time allow me a final thought in closing. I well recall wondering after my first couple hundred hours in the E-2C what those pioneers in the Avengers and SPADs would’ve thought if they had chance to see what we could – and were doing. As I look out at you all now, knowing what lies ahead of you I think I can hazard a guess – that there would be a twinge of envy, but a ton of pride in what has been wrought and certainty that the future is not only secure, but in stalwart hands.

Good luck, fly safe – kill bandits.

7 Comments

  1. Great speech… and thanks for the insight into your world, SJS. I must be hangin’ around these here squid blogs a lil much, coz I’m beginning to “get” the acronyms, as well. 😯

    –Just Another “Brand X” Guy

  2. Claudio

    SJ, just can’t resist, looking at your pic I have to ask about the suave character second from left. The Napoleonic stance with the slightly askew pipe….and is that an ascot he is wearing…..tell me he just snuck in the picture and noobe saw him

    claudio

  3. What is with the ties? In May?

    Are they already wearing SD Khakis?

  4. Steeljawscribe

    Claudio: Nope – he is a member of the class – just happens to be Royal Navy LT, a Fleet Air Arm AEW observer (also now an NFO) and a hoot to meet in person. The other gent to his left (viewer’s right) is a French Navy LT and Hawkeye NFO with 2 cruises on the Charles de Gaulle and over 600 hours in the French Navy’s Hawkeye (205 traps too).

    Skippy: The class wanted to do something a little different for their picture and went with a 40’s motif, hence the SDK and overall sepia-toned photo. Widh you could’ve been there – this is a great group and would’ve held their own in the ‘Bats or Steeljaws’ RR of yore…

    – SJS

  5. Claudio

    Figured they were fuzzy foreigners. While at HSL land in Mayport, had several of them, especially Spanish. The trick was to get enough beer whenever we had a hail and farewell. They never left a empty keg.

    Claudio

  6. Second the call on most excellent speech. Hopefully 22 years from now some O-6 walks over and shakes you hand as a result.

  7. Steeljawscribe

    Thanks — and after today’s PMS courtesy Bethesda, 😯 let’s hope we’ll still be around 22 years from now…
    -SJS

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