Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron [VAW-126]
The mission of VAW-126 is to provide the chain of command with ready Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft on station, on time, to provide Command and Control, Battle Management, and Surveillance to Joint Forces conducting continuous operations. The squadron consists of four E-2C Hawkeyes, 24 officers and 129 enlisted personnel. Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-SIX is an integral part of the tactical air forces of the United States Navy. VAW-126 is one of seven Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadrons based in Norfolk. Equipped with four E-2C "Hawkeye" aircraft, the squadron's primary mission is long range airborne early warning in defense of the Carrier Battle Group. In addition, the squadron plays a vital role in such diverse operations as fighter intercept and air strike control, ocean surveillance and search and rescue coordination.
VAW-126 was commissioned in Norfolk, Virginia on the 1st of April, 1969. Originally named "CLOSEOUT," the new squadron, with its four E-2A aircraft, was made part of Attack Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN assigned to the USS FORRESTAL (CV 59). Following completion of their first deployment in July 1970, the squadron transitioned to the E-2B. The command won accolades early in its history, winning the highly coveted COMNAVAIRLANT Battle Readiness Efficiency "E" and the CNO Safety Award in 1971. The squadron won the Battle "E" a second time in 1974.
While homeward bound in September 1974, the squadron transferred to the USS AMERICA (CV 66) from the USS FORRESTAL (CV 59). This also marked VAW-126's final E-2B flying as well. Following their return to Norfolk in October 1974, the squadron began its transition to the E-2C Hawkeye.
In May 1976, the CLOSEOUTS began the first of many trips moving the entire squadron back and forth between Norfolk and Miramar to operate with CVW-9 and prepare for their upcoming deployment on the USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64). In May 1978, VAW-126 returned to the West Coast for the squadron's second and final Western Pacific deployment. The CLOSEOUTS changed their name to SEAHAWKS in memory of their Commanding Officer, CDR Vady Clark, who passed away suddenly in September 1979.
The SEAHAWKS joined the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67)/CVW-1 team upon returning to the East coast. In July 1981, VAW-126 joined CVW-3 which replaced CVW-1 as the air wing deployed aboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67). In addition to receiving the 1983 Battle "E," the squadron also won the COMNAVAIRLANT "Silver Anchor" award for superior retention and the Airborne Early Warning Excellence Award as the best VAW squadron in the Navy. The SEAHAWKS also won the 1984 COMNAVAIRLANT "Golden Anchor" Award for outstanding personnel retention. The SEAHAWKS were awarded the Battle "E," and Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1988. In early January 1989 two Libyan MiG-23 "Flogger" aircraft were shot down by SEAHAWK controlled fighters.
The SEAHAWKS set sail with the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) Battle Group in August 1990 for the Red Sea and Operation Desert Shield. During the Desert Shield/Desert Storm Campaign the SEAHAWKS flew over 2850 hours. On June 8th, the squadron led a mixture of CVW-3 aircraft in a Desert Storm victory fly-by in Washington, D.C.
In late 1993 the CVW-3 team was reassigned to the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69) and began preparing for an October 1994 Mediterranean deployment. VAW-126 participated in the first Joint Task Group operating in the Arabian Gulf and Adriatic Sea from October 1994 through April 1995. The Seahawks were recently awarded the 1994 Battle "E" and the 1994 Airborne Early Warning Excellence award. In late 1995 the CVW-3 team was once again reassigned. This time the air wing joins the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) Battle Group. The squadron began preparations for deployment aboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) in Spring of 1996. During the first few months of the new year VAW-126 flew in support of several exercises (Unified Endeavor, Unified Spirit, and several Coastal Carnage operations). The Seahawks also acted as SAR support for several Shuttle launches.
VAW-126 participated in TSTA I/II and then flew out to Fallon, Nevada. During these two detachments, the squadron performed well and trained intensively for its mission as a Airborne Battle Commander. The SEAHAWKS boarded USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) for two months of training during the TSTA III/COMPTUEX phase of their workups. In November 1996, VAW-126 deployed aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) for JTG 97-1. Riddled with port visits, the cruise proved to be very busy during the squadron's at sea periods. In it's first few months the squadron worked with many NATO countries in several training evolutions. VAW-126 participated in Juniper Stallion, US/French PASSEX, INVITEX, and was also involved in Bosnian operations. In March 97, CVN-71 with VAW-126 transited the Suez to work with 5th fleet in Persian Gulf operations. By mid-April, the Battlegroup was back in the Mediterranean conducting exercises with both the Egyptians and the Spanish. The turnover with the USS John F. Kennedy occurred on 11 May 1997 and VAW-126 returned home to Norfolk on 22 May 1997.
From May 1997 to August 1997, the Seahawks sent several detachments to Key West for "Brothers to the Rescue" monitoring. Providing a solid link picture proved to be the key, especially for the anniversary weekend of the shootdown by the Cuban MiG. VAW-126 also conducted a VANDALEX missile exercise in early July off the Virginia coast. The squadron performed Counter Narcotic Operations in Puerto Rico from 20 August 1997 to 16 October 1997. Although based out of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, the squadron occasionally worked out of Howard Air Force Base, Panama and Curacao, a small island North of Venezuela. Although home for a few months, VAW-126 continues to provide low level radar coverage several weekends each month for Cuban "Brothers to the Rescue" operations. A small detachment was also sent to Puerto Rico for Orange Air in the end of November 1997.
Following a Carrier Qualification period on board the USS ENTERPRISE, "workups", or pre-deployment training, officially began for VAW-126 in February 98 . The squadron left for Fallon, Nevada for its first SFARP (Strike Fighter Air Combat Maneuvering Readiness Program) with the VF-32 Swordsmen. Within a week of returning to Norfolk, VAW-126 began its second SFARP training with VFA-37 and VFA-105 out of Jacksonville, FL. The training concluded with one week in Fallon. The first shipboard training was TSTA 1/2 on board the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) from 16 April 1998 to 1 May 1998. Airwing training in Fallon, Nevada began 26 May 1998 for three and a half weeks of intense strike planning and execution, battlespace management, and air intercept control. The Seahawks returned 22 June 1998 to prepare for COMPTUEX aboard the USS ENTERPRISE held from 15 July 98 to 20 August 98. FLEET-EX began 18 September and deployment began in the fall of 1998.
In July 1999 the Seahawks of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 126 (VAW-126) began an eight-week detachment to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. During the eight week deployment, VAW-126 was tasked with the monitoring and detection of illegal drug operations in the Carribean Sea. The Seahawks flew 140 sorties logging 618 hours in support of Joint Interagency Task Force mission tasking. VAW-126 operations led to several disruptions in the illegal drug trade and effectively shut down supply routes throughout the region. The Seahawks also participated in pilot cross training with the Tridents of VP-26, who were there on a six month deployment and the Redtails of VC-8, who are stationed in Roosevelt Roads. VAW-126 returned to Naval Station Norfolk on 10 September 1999 for some post-deployment R&R, then started preparations for deployment onboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75), America's newest aircraft carrier along with Carrier Air Wing Three.
Twenty nine years earlier, the fleet began flying the Group 0 E2-C Hawkeyes. On May 22, 2001, the very same antiquated aircraft flew from the deck of the mighty USS Truman marking the end of its last ever, six-month deployment. The VAW-126 SEAHAWKS of CVW-3 were well served by its avionics and software slightly less advanced than the Atari 2600 version of Pitfall. However, the timeless mantra of short men everywhere, "It's not your equipment, it's how you use it", never rang more true than it has in Ready Room Two. The SEAHAWKS were an integral piece of Air Wing THREE during every phase of work-ups and continuing through four months flying in the Arabian Gulf supporting Operation Southern Watch. A Golden-Wrench winning maintenance team allowed the squadron to fly all of cruise missing only one sortie and put FMC aircraft airborne for 850+ consecutive hours despite working with parts built during the Nixon administration. Controllers who are second to none earned the respect and confidence of every other CVW-3 squadron, while SEAHAWK pilots grabbed two "Top Tens" and three "Top Five Nuggets".
Say the words, "Med cruise" to the average person on the street and they more than likely envision something very different from six months at sea with periodic stops to a place affectionately called the "Sandbox". In the first five months of this "Med" cruise, the squadron was scheduled for exactly one port stay in the Mediterranean, Souda Bay Crete. It rained the majority of the time they were there but that did not detract from the fun to be had. Thanks to a place that was created with fun in mind, the Fun Pub. The locals extended their warmest hospitality and even let a few aviators strut their stuff on the bar. The midnight curfew came too early every night as the place was usually still lousy with SEAHAWKS and Air Wing THREE aviators come closing time.
CVW-3 and the SEAHAWKS were called on to participate in the largest joint strike since Operation Desert Fox, striking targets north of the 33 parallel. All players responded with professionalism, pride, and precision, showing that the hard months of work-ups and unit level training had paid off. On the non-operational front, the sqaudron welcomed a new, salty sailor named Monique and bid farewell to four others in a memorable farewell at Jim's in Bahrain. (God bless the invention of the video camera for making the night memorable for those who's own memories could not.) Bahrain was also the site of the now-famous Air Wing THREE mechanical bull riding competition, in which a drunken local tried in vain to dethrone VAW-126's champion riders and instead fell in the pool. In three visits to Jebel Ali and the Sandbox, some SEAHAWKS headed out to the Alamo or the $35 all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza at Spice Island while many others chose to set up shop in the sandbox and go for the alternative centurion patch for consuming the requisite amount of dollar beers.
Deployed with the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 126 provided two aircraft and approximately 30 crew members in support of the weeklong operation for the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar Dec. 7, 2004. This marked the first time VAW-126 had been part of an expeditionary operation. The squadron is typically attached to its air wing, but this operation provided invaluable support to President Karzai's inauguration. The operation began Dec. 4, when squadron members departed from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) to Kandahar Air Base, approximately 1,000 miles away from where the carrier was operating in the Persian Gulf. The team spent their first evening on the base setting up quarters for the week on the Kandahar military compound. They began planning the expeditionary operation early the next day, followed by a full day of rehearsal operations before the day of the inauguration. On the day of the inauguration, the two VAW-126 aircraft spent nine hours in the air, providing continuous air support and coverage for the arrival of distinguished visitors and the inauguration.
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