Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 77 (VAW-77)
The Nightwolves of VAW-77 based at NAS Atlanta, comprise the U.S. Navy's only fully dedicated counter-narcotics squadron. VAW-77's beginnings go back to 1995, when the U.S. Congress created the reserve squadron as a result of the United States escalating war on illegal drug trafficking. VAW-77 received four specially modified E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft optimized for counter-drug missions. As part of the Navy's post-Cold War role, VAW-77 flight crews patrol the waters of the Caribbean in joint missions with the U.S. Coast Guard and other drug enforcement agencies in search of illegal aircraft and ships.
The officers and enlisted members of VAW-77 are a mix of Selected Reservists and active duty TAR personnel. Because the squadron is a component of the Naval Reserve, a significant number of its men and women are Selected Reservists. They participate in the squadron's mission on a part-time basis because of their civilian commitments. The aircraft are serviced and maintained by Northrop-Grumman civilian contractors who also deploy with the squadron.
On 18 November 1995 Carrier Early Airborne Warning Squadron 77 (VAW-77) was commissioned, as a Reserve Squadron serving with the US Coast Guard and other Federal Agencies to fight the war on drugs, providing sophisticated air surveillance on traffic off the southern coast of the US. VAW-77 "Night Wolves" work in tandem with Coast Guard and other federal law enforcement agencies to combine and coordinate operations of counter-narcotics forces. The E-2C Hawkeye squadron deploys four to five times a year to bases near known drug trafficking routes to help identify suspected drug smugglers. The squadron spends approximately four to five months per year forward deployed to bases near illegal drug traffic lanes.
Since commissioning, the Nightwolves have completed a number of sixty-day counter-drug deployments to the Caribbean Theater. VAW-77 deploys primarily to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, but has also worked out of Howard AFB, Panama, Patrick AFB, Florida, and Curacao, Netherland Antilles. Squadron aircraft have been involved in over 120 high profile arrests and seizures of drug carrying container ships, high-speed watercraft, and light civilian aircraft. In fact, the mere presence of the Nightwolves in the Caribbean has caused drug traffickers to change their tactics in order to avoid detection by VAW-77 aircraft.
VAW-77 was awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Award for their exceptional performance with the Joint Interagency Task Force. The Task Force's teamwork contributed to the interdiction of more than $3 billion of contraband and supported the seizure of 72 metric tons of cocaine and 4 metric tons of marijuana, the confiscation of 23 vessels and aircraft involved in the movement of illegal drugs.
Immediately following Hurricane Floyd in late 1999, Reservists of Carrier Airborne Early Warning squadrons VAW-77 and VAW-78 provided communication, command and control (C3) support to U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force and Army helos and C-130 humanitarian relief flood evacuation operations in Virginia, North and South Carolina. When flooding began in Virginia and North Carolina [around the Tar River], VAW-77 and 78 initially supported Search and Rescue operations over the drill weekend. VAW-77 and 78 assisted the Emergency Operations Center (FEMA) in the rescue of people stranded by flooding along the Tar River. VAW-77 Reservists provided over 40 percent of the C3 coordination, flew 12 sorties and 38 flight hours in two days. Crews flew Hawkeye aircraft to provide communications links and coordinate helicopter traffic for picking up survivors; Coast Guard and Air Force C-130s served as overall coordinators for rescue efforts. Naval Reservists were directly involved in the rescue of 500 people.
The squadron's awards include a Joint Meritorious Unit award, Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Battle "E" awards, the Safety "S" and numerous Bravo Zulu's and unit citations.
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