More than 100 U.S. Navy aviators returned to their home bases at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., and Norfolk Naval Station (NNS) in Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 19 following their nearly ten-month deployment as part of Carrier Air Wing Seven (CVW-7) assigned aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).
USS Abraham Lincoln has been underway in support of maritime security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of operation since April 1, 2019.
CVW-7 Carrier Air Wing Commander (CAG), Capt. William Reed returned to Norfolk Naval Station with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 (VAW-121). CAG and assigned U.S. Navy aviators flew five E-2D “Advanced Hawkeye” aircraft to their homeport.
Reed reflected on his deep appreciation for the men and women assigned to CVW-7, but also the community for their support during their record-breaking deployment.
“Thanks to the Sailors that made our deployment happen,” said Reed. “Also thanks to the community who supported the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and the Air Wing, we couldn’t do the mission without their support.”
In addition to VAW-121, Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VFA-103) the “Jolly Rogers” and VFA-143, the “World Famous Pukin’ Dogs” returned to NAS Oceana flying F/A-18E “Super Hornets.” Other crew members who supported VAW-121, VFA-103, and VFA-143 will return to NNS and NAS Oceana throughout the coming week. U.S. Navy aviators and supporting crew members assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) Five will also return the coming week.
Cmdr. Patrice Fernandez, commanding officer, VFA-103 led his squadron in completing 4,410 mishap-free flight hours while conducting operations in the 5th Area of Operations as part of five major joint exercises in support of coalition and joint operability. The squadron also completed 2,397 ”sorties”, or missions, including 200 combat missions delivering more than 10,000 pounds of munitions. They also made 2,403 traps aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
“The deployment was long, but it was very rewarding; we did outstanding work there,” said Fernandez.
Cmdr. Justin Allen, commanding officer, VFA-143 led his squadron in completing 2,600 sorties, 216 combat missions, while amassing 4,665 flight hours. During these missions the squadron delivered over 11,000 pounds of ordnance supporting Operations Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, and Freedom Sentinel in Afghanistan. The pilots also completed more than 2,000 carrier arrested landings, or traps.
“My squadron performed very well during this long cruise,” said Allen. “We all worked very hard, and it’s great to be home.”
VAW-121 commanded by Cmdr. Martin Fentress Jr., discussed his squadron’s accomplishments during the deployment to include amassing a total of 2,375 flight hours, and 772 carrier arrested landings, or “traps”, of which 510 were accomplished at night.
The squadron flew airborne command and control missions as part of CVW-7 while operating in the Mediterranean Sea before transiting to the North Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Sentinel.
“We’ve just completed the longest carrier deployment since the Vietnam War–the longest nuclear carrier deployment,” said Fentress, who appreciated returning to colder temperatures, something he had not experienced for nearly 10 months. “I am incredibly humbled to be a part of such a healthy and strong organization. I am proud of the all that we accomplished and thrilled to deliver each Bluetail safely home to his/her family and friends.”
The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group team executed over 1,285 sorties totaling 28,437 hours, to include 392 combat sorties encompassing 1,140 combat flight hours in direct support of friendly forces in Afghanistan and Syria. The air wing successfully employed 42 precision-guided munitions with a combined weight of over 70,000 pounds, destroying enemy targets and fighting positions in direct defense of coalition forces on the ground.
While deployed, the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group also participated in numerous interoperability and partnership-building exercises with sister services and allied navies in both the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleets, demonstrating the U.S. Navy’s capability to rapidly aggregate power across combatant commands to meet emerging missions and contingencies. As it transited through U.S. 7th Fleet, the strike group also conducted flight operations in the South China Sea in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
By Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic Public Affairs