A Holiday Reunion for Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 as the Squadron Returns Home to NAS Norfolk

NORFOLK (NNS) — More than 160 men and women and five E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft of the “Bluetails” of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 returned home just in time for the holidays Dec. 5, following their six-month deployment.

The squadron, commanded by Cmdr. Michael Finn, left its home base of Naval Air Station (NAS) Norfolk June 3 on a regularly scheduled deployment as part of the Bremerton, Washington-based Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG 11) and steamed via U.S. 3rd and 7th Fleet areas of operations (AOO) to the Arabian Gulf in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOO.

“I’m extremely proud of the men and women of the Bluetails,” said Finn, commanding officer of VAW-121. “The team did outstanding work in the 5th Fleet AOO in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in Iraq and Syria. They provided an unmatched capability in theater to paint a picture of the battlespace in real time that directly protected troops on the ground. It’s been a busy year with a compressed, cross-coast work-up cycle and six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf. Now it’s time for the Bluetails to get back home and enjoy some time with their families and friends.”

Rear Adm. Bill Byrne and subsequently Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, commander of CSG 11, conducted maritime and theater security operation efforts and missions supporting OIR.

While conducting flight operations from the Arabian Gulf, the Bluetails flew 276 sorties, of which 132 were combat missions. The aircrew logged 1,454 flight hours – 1, 020.7 in combat.

“Flying the E-2 Hawkeye is a challenging experience for any pilot, but the E-2D brings a totally new and unique twist on it, incorporating the copilot into the active mission,” said Lt. Matthew “Charmin” Smrz a Bluetail pilot and native of Plover, Wisconsin “It is very rewarding to be so actively involved in a mission that was accomplished only by NFOs (naval flight officers). At the end of the day, we still have an enormous responsibility of bringing the largest, most difficult aircraft to land safely aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier.”

The squadron logged 505 arrested landings, or “traps” during the deployment and supported a rigorous maintenance schedule.

“For my first deployment, this was an eye opening experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” said Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Darion Smalls, a native of Dallas. “There is no better feeling than to send off a Hawkeye to assist with OIR missions and take the fight to ISIS. From the most junior personnel in our shop to the most senior, everyone pulled their weight and we worked as a team. I am honored to have fought alongside the squadrons on the Nimitz and I’m proud to be a Bluetail.”

The squadron received a safety award during deployment and Bluetails racked up 56 individual awards for excellence. Twenty-five Sailors earned their Enlisted Air Warfare Specialist qualification and six earned their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist qualification after demonstrating superior knowledge in those warfare areas.

The Bluetails joined the following squadrons of CVW-11 embarked on Nimitz: the Lemoore, California-based “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, “Black Knights” of VFA 154, “Blue Diamonds” of VFA 146, the San Diego-based “Death Rattlers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, the Whidbey Island, Washington-based “Gray Wolves” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 142, and the San Diego-based “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, “Wolfpack” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 75 and “Providers” of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30.

Carrier Strike Group 11 also includes the San Diego-based Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Princeton (CG 59) and USS Lake Erie (CG 70), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 9 – the Everett, Washington-based USS Shoup (DDG 86) and USS Kidd (DDG 100), and San Diego-based USS Howard (DDG 83) and USS Pinckney (DDG 91).

For more informatin about VAW-121 visit http://www.public.navy.mil/airfor/vaw121/Pages/default.aspx

For more information about Carrier Strike Group 11, visit http://www.nimitz.navy.mil/csg_11.html and http://www.facebook.com/carrierstrikegroupeleven

For more information, visit http://www.navy.mil, http://www.facebook.com/usnavy and http://www.twitter.com/usnavy.

For more news from Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/csg11/.

For more news from Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, visit www.navy.mil/local/comnavairlant/.

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