Nine aircraft squadrons of Carrier Air Wing (CVW-3) returned to Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Naval Station (NS) Norfolk, NAS Whidbey Island, and NAS Jacksonville, Aug. 6-7 following their seven-month deployment aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), according to Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier strike Group (CSG) ships departed their homeport of Norfolk, on Jan. 17, for the strike group’s Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) and follow-on deployment to U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet. While embarked, CVW-3 supported Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) in U.S. 5th Fleet, which served to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and deescalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Oman.
While embarked, CVW-3 conducted 166 sorties and 1,135 flight hours in support of and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel missions, and 112 sorties and 492 flight hours in support of Strait of Hormuz transits and Deliberate Presence Patrols (DPP) in U.S. 5th Fleet.
Capt. Trevor Estes, commander, CVW-3 reflected on the air wing’s accomplishments while assigned to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. CVW-3 is comprised of approximately 1,800 men and women and 75 aircraft.
“I could not have asked for greater effort from the CVW-3/IKE team during this challenging deployment. The professionalism of my aircrew and the sailors sweating through seven months of no port visit operations was simply eye-watering,” said Estes. “I truly hope that every member of this team has the opportunity they deserve to relax and enjoy time with family and friends post deployment. In the end, I want the team to know how thankful I am for them every day.”
The carrier supported a variety of mission sets during their deployment. Eisenhower supported air superiority operations, maritime security and stability, participating in maritime security cooperation efforts, interoperability and partnership building, and training evolutions to maintain readiness and develop warfighting competencies. While deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and Pacific Ocean through the western Indian Ocean and three critical chokepoints to the free flow of global commerce.
Some of CVW-3 highlights from their seven-month deployment included cross-deck inter-operability exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, March 3, with the IKECSG and the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91). The unique opportunity allowed pilots from both navies to land and launch on the two flight decks while the leaders of each strike group met aboard both carriers for a tour and an opportunity to observe their respective pilots operate aboard a foreign naval vessel.
“It was an honor to participate in the first-ever F/A-18E Super Hornet recovery aboard the FS Charles de Gaulle,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Smith, a naval aviator attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32.”The seamless integration of French and U.S. systems and operators shows not only the compatibility of our practices and procedures, but also the strength of our alliance.”
Additionally, while operating in U.S. 6th Fleet IKECSG conducted exercises with the Hellenic Navy and conducted strike training on the Karavia Range in the Mediterranean Sea July 24-27.
Squadrons returning to NAS Oceana include Strike Fighter Squadron VFA- 32 “Swordsmen” flying 12 F/A-18F Super Hornets; VFA-131, the “Wildcats” flying 10 F/A-18E Super Hornets; the “Gunslingers” of VFA-105 flying 12 F/A-18E Super Hornets; and VFA-83 “Rampagers” flying 10 F/A-18E Super Hornets.
VFA-32 Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Thomas Bunker reflected on the squadron’s 75th anniversary.
“It is truly an honor to command the world’s finest strike fighter squadron during this special year of its 75th anniversary, and returning home from this arduous deployment,” said Bunker. “The Gypsies have been the backbone of Naval Aviation since the squadron’s inception, and continue that legacy today returning home from a successful deployment on board USS Dwight D. Eisenhower as part of CVW-3 and CSG-10.”
Adding another unique tie to the return from deployment is a change of command ceremony for one of the NAS Oceana assigned squadrons. VFA-131 will conduct a change of command ceremony immediately following their landing, where Cmdr. Samuel Morrison will relieve Cmdr. Aras Knasas.
“It has been an honor serving with the Sailors, Chief Petty Officers, and officers of VFA-131, said Knasas, who is from Boston, Mass. “The resiliency, dedication to mission, and professionalism that they displayed on this record breaking deployment was truly humbling. I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded with such a talented team of men and women.”
Morrison, who is from Lexington, Ill., served as the executive officer prior to assuming command of VFA-131.
“I’m both humbled and honored to have the opportunity to carry on the mission of this squadron and continue the tradition of excellence demonstrated over this unique deployment by every
Wildcat Sailor under the servant leadership of Skipper Knasas,” said Morrison.
Squadrons returning to NS Norfolk include the “Screwtops” of Airborne Command & Control Squadron (VAW) 123 flying four E-2C Hawkeyes, HSC-7 “Dusty Dogs” flying eight MH-60S Knighthawks, and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40 “Rawhides” flying two C-2A Greyhounds.
Squadrons returning to NAS Jacksonville include the “Swamp Foxes” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 74 flying 11 MH-60R Seahawks.