Strike Fighter Squadron ONE THREE SIX [VFA-136]
Strike Fighter Squadron ONE THREE SIX was established in July 1985 at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California. February of the following year brought a homeport change to Cecil Field Naval Air Station where they trained until their recent relocation to Naval Air Station Oceana in December 1998.
As a relatively new squadron, VFA-136 rapidly established itself as a leader in the Strike Fighter community. VFA-136 first deployed in September 1987 with Carrier Air Wing THIRTEEN on board the USS CORAL SEA (CV-43). One year later, the KNIGHTHAWKS joined Carrier Air wing SEVEN on the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69). During the Ike's "Centennial Cruise" in 1990, the KNIGHTHAWKS participated in Exercises "DISTANT THUNDER", "DRAGON HAMMER '90" and "DASIX". These opportunities to work with French, British, Italian and Tunisian forces provided invaluable training for VFA-136. The cruise took its most serious turn after Iraq invaded Kuwait on the 2nd of August 1990. In support of Operation "DESERT SHIELD", the Ike was on station in the Red Sea within 36 hours, becoming the first carrier to conduct sustained operations in the area. After returning from deployment, all KNIGHTHAWK aircraft were upgraded to the new Lot XIII Night Attack version. The KNIGHTHAWKS became the first fully operational night strike Hornet squadron in the Navy.
In October 1991, the KNIGHTHAWKS and the Ike were back in the Middle East enforcing the peace accords set after Operation "DESERT STORM". Upon completion of those operations, the team transitioned to the North Atlantic to participate in the NATO Exercise "TEAMWORK '92". This would be the largest NATO exercise in over three years.
When the KNIGHTHAWKS returned from cruise, there was no time to slow down. The KNIGHTHAWKS began their preparations for CVW-7's move to the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN-73). The GW Shake Down Cruise in the fall of 1992 completed the squadron's transition to its new home. As part of its maiden cruise in May 1994, the GW was the flagship for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of D-Day hosting President Clinton. During the cruise, the KNIGHTHAWKS participated in NATO Operations "DENY FLIGHT" (over Bosnia-Herzegovina), "SOUTHERN WATCH" and "VIGILANT WARRIOR" (both in the Persian Gulf). In addition to supporting NATO, the KNIGHTHAWKS also participated in exercises in England, France, Sicily, Jordan, Tunisia, Bahrain and Oman. The GW's maiden deployment returned in November 1994.
After another short turn around cycle, the KNIGHTHAWKS deployed again on the GW in January 1996 for Med 96-1 cruise. Significant events during this cruise were centered around Operation "DECISIVE ENDEAVOR" in which the KNIGHTHAWKS and the George Washington Battle Group lent "Peace at Hand" in Bosnia-Herzegovina. From Operations in the Adriatic Sea, commitments took us to the Arabian Gulf to fly in support of Operation "SOUTHERN WATCH", in which the Battle Group continued the enforcement of the U.N. sanctions against Iraq. This cruise was capped by winning both the Air Wing Bombing Derby and "Top Hook" awards.
In February 1998, the KNIGHTHAWKS embarked on the maiden deployment of USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74). This world cruise included a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation "SOUTHERN WATCH" and culminated in the arrival of USS JOHN C. STENNIS in their new homeport of San Diego, California.
Immediately following this deployment the KNIGHTHAWKS commenced the arduous task of relocating the squadron from its home base of Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida to Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia as mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure decisions. The Fly-In Ceremony was attended by numerous high ranking civilian and military officials which provided a warm welcome to the Virginia Beach community.
In February 2000, the KNIGHTHAWKS embarked onboard USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER for the "Millennium Cruise", deploying to the Mediterranean / Persian Gulf. Six months to the day after deploying with USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69) and CVW-7, the KNIGHTHAWKS of VFA-136 returned home to Norfolk on 18 August 2000.
Having in-chopped to the 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR) on 03 March 2000 , and on 06 March the KNIGHTHAWKS found themselves in the Adriatic, helping to enforce the fragile Dayton Accords governing the peace between the former warring factions in Bosnia and other parts of the Balkans. This plan has kept the peace since its implementation in 1995, and Naval air power has had a significant role in doing this. After several days of these operations, it was time for the KNIGHTHAWKS' first port visit of cruise.
On March 10, the ship anchored off the coast of Italy, and the liberty boats started running to deliver sailors to the city of Trieste. This was a great chance for the sailors to experience European culture, architecture, and food, as well as the people of a foreign land. Trieste's location in Italy allowed people to take the train to other great Italian cities, such as Florence and Venice. Many a KNIGHTHAWK was seen navigating the canals of Venice, taking in the many sights offered by the beauty and history of the city.
After this visit, the KNIGHTHAWKS proceeded back into the main body of the Mediterranean, heading over to the coast of Israel to participate in a joint exercise between the aircraft of CVW-7 and those of the Israeli Air Force. This provided a great opportunity for the airmen of both countries to train and experience simulated air combat in a different environment than what they normally experience. For approximately one week, US and Israeli aircraft flew against and with each other, practicing both dogfighting techniques and simulated strikes on bombing ranges out in the desert. After this exchange of goodwill, the IKE headed over to Souda Bay, Crete for its next port visit. The men and women of VFA-136 then headed back to Israel after their brief stay in Crete for the 3rd port visit of cruise. This stop in Israel afforded a rare opportunity to visit what is perhaps the most historic, and most fought over, piece of ground in the world-Jerusalem. It was a truly outstanding opportunity for all involved, and one that will not soon be forgotten by those who experienced it.
After Israel, the KNIGHTHAWKS flew another stint in the Adriatic, after which a brief stopover to Corfu, Greece was had. This brief respite from the demanding schedule of flying real world missions was welcome, but its end meant another at sea period supporting the foreign policy of the United States. All of the hard work they had done so far on cruise was rewarded through 2 special events at the beginning of May, when the KNIGHTHAWKS participated in two "firsts." CDR Bobby "Tree" Rountree, KNIGHTHAWK XO, lead a contingent of VFA-136 and VFA-131 pilots and maintainers to Taszar, Hungary, where they participated in the first bilateral exercise between the United States and NATO's newest member. This was an outstanding opportunity for both sides to get to know each other and to strengthen the military-to-military contacts that are integral to any successful alliance. The other event was the first visit of a US Navy aircraft carrier to Dubrovnik, Croatia for a port visit since 1989. This was truly an exciting event for both the sailors and the Croatians to get to interact and experience the culture and customs of the other.
After Croatia, it was back to sea followed by a five day visit to Antalya, Turkey, before heading for the Suez Canal en route to the Arabian Gulf. For many KNIGHTHAWKS, this was the first time they "did the ditch," and it was quite an experience. As thrilling as it was to be going south through the canal, what most people were looking forward to was the northbound trip slated to occur a full two months later. This symbolic transition from one sea to another also signaled a shift in the attitudes of most people in the squadron, as the likelihood of KNIGHTHAWK aircraft being fired upon and dropping ordnance in retaliation was close to 100%.
The Gulf was all that it promised to be from people who had been there before-hot, hazy, and humid. Also true to form were Saddam Hussein's continued attempts to down a coalition aircraft, as KNIGHTHAWK pilots experienced AAA fire in their first few missions in support of Operation Southern Watch over Iraqi territory. This activity proved to be the norm rather than the exception, as VFA-136 aircraft were shot at on most missions over hostile territory. These provocations resulted in approved retaliatory strikes, and for the first time, and several times thereafter, KNIGHTHAWK aircraft and aircrew dropped live ordnance on Iraqi air defense sites and equipment throughout southern Iraq.
To relieve the daily stress and accumulated tensions of these high-intensity operations, for both pilots and maintainers, IKE made one port visit to Bahrain and two to Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. These port visits allowed KNIGHTHAWK personnel to unwind, but also to experience a culture and way of life that few Americans get a chance to experience live. While most sailors found the people and sights of the Middle East fascinating and exotic, everyone started thinking of home and a temperate climate.
Following the second visit to Jebel Ali, IKE and CVW-7 turned south to head out of the Gulf and back toward the Med to begin the journey home. In the Gulf of Oman, just outside the Arabian Gulf, the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON and the IKE passed each other and turned over the duties of standing guard off of Iraq's southern frontier. A few days later, many KNIGHTHAWKS saw their dreams of the northward transit through the Suez Canal realized, as the IKE steamed north toward the Ionian Sea for the last major flight operations of cruise. It was only a short time until VFA-136 and the rest of the people on board got a chance to take part in the 10th, and last, port visit of the deployment, this time to Lisbon, Portugal. It was a truly delightful and pleasant way to spend four days before beginning the trans-Atlantic voyage for the US and home.
After 2 fly days sprinkled throughout the translant, IKE pulled in to Mayport, FL on the 16th of May to let the squadrons based in Whidbey Island, WA and Jacksonville, FL debark. It also allowed the family members of many KNIGHTHAWKS to embark in the IKE for the traditional tiger cruise, where these people got a chance to experience life aboard an aircraft carrier and see what their sailors have been going through for the last six months. The main highlight was the airwing fly-off and subsequent air power demonstration by the remaining squadrons on board.
During their short history, the KNIGHTHAWKS have received the prestigious FOX-1 award (now known as the Grand Slam) for Air-to-Air excellence as well as the Silver Bomb award for Air-to-Ground excellence and numerous squadron "Top Hook" awards. The KNIGHTHAWKS have flown with many countries as well as against a wide variety of aircraft. Together, the 189 enlisted men, women, and 25 officers of VFA-136 have emerged as leaders in today's "Strike-Fighter" Navy.
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