Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115 [VAW-115]
Since 20 April 1967, VAW-115 has patrolled the skies of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans in support of several Carrier Battlegroups. Originally flying the E-1B "Willie Fudd" with Attack Carrier Wing 2 aboard the USS RANGER (CVA 61), the squadron has seen the evolution of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft, transitioning to the E-2B in 1970, the E-2C in 1985, and most recently, the E-2C Group II Navigation Upgrade in July of 1998 while deployed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The VAW-115 Liberty Bells are the oldest and only original squadron in Carrier Air Wing FIVE (CVW-5). They joined CVW-5 aboard USS MIDWAY (CV 41) in 1970 and made two combat deployments to the Gulf of Tonkin between May 1971 and April 1973. In September 1973, VAW-115 along with the rest of CVW-5, moved to Yokosuka, Japan, as a component of the U.S. Forward Deployed Naval Forces and established themselves as the only carrier and air wing to be home ported outside the continental United States.
Since then, the Liberty Bells have participated in many historically significant events. VAW-115 E-2's played a significant Command & Control role in operation FREQUENT WIND during the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. From the late 1970's throughout the 1980's, VAW-115 made eleven deployments to the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea, a period which saw such tumultuous events as the Iranian seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. In 1983, the E-2Bs of VAW-115 participated in rescue and salvage operations following the tragic shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007. 1985 saw the Liberty Bells support Freedom of Navigation contingency operations, both for the USS Oldendorf in the Sea of Japan and for Operation EARNEST WILL, protecting Kuwaiti re-flagged tankers through the Straits of Hormuz. During the 1989/90 deployment, Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE tasked the MIDWAY Battle Group with supporting the democratic government of the Philippines against a coup attempt.
In October 1990, VAW-115 deployed to the Arabian Gulf as part of Operation DESERT SHIELD, responding to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In February 1991, DESERT SHIELD became DESERT STORM in which VAW-115 flew 179 combat sorties. August of 1991 saw USS MIDWAY decommission and CVW-5 embark on USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62). During the ensuing years, the squadron deployed to the Arabian Gulf four times in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, enforcing the No-Fly Zone over the skies of southern Iraq. VAW-115 and the INDEPENDENCE Battlegroup were called upon for a January 1998 contingency deployment in support of United Nations sanctions. In July of 1998, VAW-115 and CVW-5 cross-decked from USS INDEPENDENCE onto their new home, USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63). The squadron completed their second no-notice contingency deployment to the Arabian Gulf over the summer of 1999, supporting OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH.
VAW-115 continues to participate in numerous pacific theater exercises. Some of the more noteworthy have been ANNUALEX and KEEN SWORD exercises with the Japanese Air and Maritime Self Defense Forces; FOAL EAGLE with the US and South Korean Air Forces; TANDEM THRUST with the Royal Australian Air Force and Navy; and RIMPAC, a biannual multinational exercise which includes forces from around the Pacific. The Liberty Bells have also established "Sister Squadron" relationships with other E-2 squadrons including the JASDF 601 AEW Squadron and the Republic of Singapore Air Force 111 E-2 Squadron. VAW-115 has seven Battle Efficiency "E" awards, including the 1999 Battle Efficiency award, six AEW Excellence Awards and numerous Safety "S" awards to her credit.
The Liberty Bells, of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron One One Five, returned home in the Spring of 2000 after successfully completing a short cruise that involved two exercises and several exotic port calls. The Liberty Bells played a major role in Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) and the multi-national exercise, Cobra Gold. Along the way, the Liberty Bells and CVW-5 visited exciting and exotic ports in Guam, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong. The Liberty Bells kicked-off the short cruise leaving Atsugi, Japan on April 1, 2000 and landed in Guam for Field Carrier Landing Practice and SFARP. SFARP was designed to prepare Carrier Air Wing Five for the challenging months ahead. As a key player in SFARP, VAW-115 helped fighter squadrons in CVW-5 update training in air-to-air tactics. The Liberty Bells controlled the fighters in simulated air-to-air intercepts. Throughout the exercise, the squadron flew over 150 hours. On April 20, 2000 VAW-115 and Carrier Airwing Five along with the USS Kittyhawk kicked off the at-sea period of the cruise by pulling out of Guam and setting sail towards Singapore.
After successfully finishing SFARP, the Kittyhawk transited through the Philippine straits and on May 6, 2000 anchored in the beautiful and exciting port of Singapore. There they spent four days relaxing and experiencing the wonderful culture of Singapore. After visiting the exotic port of Phattaya, Thailand, VAW-115 kicked off exercise Cobra Gold. Cobra Gold is an annual joint exercise between U.S. and Thai military forces. The exercise is designed to ensure regional peace and strengthen the ability of the Royal Thai Armed Forces to defend themselves and respond to regional contingencies. It involved units from the Thai and U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The Liberty Bells played an integral role in controlling the fighters in air-to-air intercepts. VAW-115 also provided command and control, and acted as liaison between the Thai Air Traffic Control and U.S. Forces.
Next the Liberty Bells spent seven busy days at sea participating in many unit level exercises to keep Carrier Air Wing Five at the tip of the spear. The maintenance team of VAW-115 worked day and night to keep the planes flying as scheduled. They were constantly faced with obstacles and overcame them like true professionals. On May 26, 2000, the Liberty Bells and the rest of the Kittyhawk team anchored in Hong Kong. On June 2, 2000 the Liberty Bells and the rest of Carrier Air Wing Five flew home. At home in Atsugi the Liberty Bells supported the rest of Carrier Air Wing Five by coordinating several missile shoots. The rest of the Kitty Hawk crew pulled into port on June 5, 2000.
During the summer, squadron personnel had the opportunity for some leave and time to spend with their families. At the end of September 2000, the Liberty Bells returned to sea in support of our regularly scheduled Autumn Exercises. To begin, the Liberty Bells took part in CVW5 missile shoot exercises in the ranges around Okinawa. Then, the Kitty Hawk Battle Group went North to Otaru, Japan to make a port call and establish new friendships with our northern Japanese hosts. Back to sea, we took part in Exercise FOAL EAGLE with the Korean military and then ANNUALEX and KEEN SWORD with the Japanese. In the middle of November, the Liberty Bells once again returned home to Atsugi.
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