Patrol Squadron 66 [VP-66]
Patrol Squadron 66 was commissioned on 1 November 1970 at Naval Air Station, Willow Grove Pennsylvania, as a result of the reorganization of the Naval Air Reserve. Initially composed of units from NAS New York, VP-66 began with three active duty officers, 50 active duty enlisted and approximately 300 Selected Reserve Personnel. In less than a year, the squadron's combat readiness increased from last to first among all Atlantic Fleet Reserve VP Squadrons, resulting in a special commendation from Commander, Reserve Patrol Wing Atlantic. Although the squadron was originally known as the BOXCARS, in celebration of the Nation's 200th anniversary, VP-66 was renamed the LIBERTY BELLS in 1976.
Patrol Squadron 66 first flew the Lockheed SP-2H "Neptune" aircraft until 1973, when the squadron transitioned to the Lockheed P-3A "Orion". In 1990, the squadron's transition to the P-3B TACNAVMOD aircraft was completed and in May 1996, the LIBERTY BELLS completed their latest aircraft transition to the P-3C Update II. This weapons platform, with its dramatically increased antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and ocean-surveillance capabilities, enabled squadron aircrews to reach a level of expertise and operational readiness equal to the fleet.
VP-66 achieved a major milestone on 17 November 1999. On that day, the squadron achieved 100,000 mishap free flight hours over the course of 29 years. A five time recipient of the CNO Safety "S" Award, they won in 1980, 1991, 1996, 1997 and 1998. They also received the 1984 and 1992 AVCM Donald M. Neal (Golden Wrench) Maintenance Award, the 1986 Retention Excellence Award and the 1988 Administrative Excellence ward. Additionally, VP-66 was the recipient of the Noel Davis Battle "E" Award for 1993, awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1996 and won the 1997 International MPA Symposium Trophy for ASW excellence while competing against crews from five NATO nations and representatives from every active duty and reserve U.S. Navy P-3C Squadron. VP-66 has also been awarded the Armed Forces Service Medal (24 October-14 December 1996) and the Joint Meritorious Service Medal for 1 January-31 December 1998.
Squadron personnel operate and maintain seven P-3C aircraft on a full time basis flying in excess of 2,100 hours annually. The squadron's seven P-3C aircraft and 12 flight crews are capable of deploying worldwide with minimal advance notice. To enable the squadron to carry out missions around the clock, eight officers and 107 enlisted personnel are assigned full-time to the command. This permanent active duty cadre provides the training and administration for 54 officers and 113 enlisted personnel who make up the Selected Reserve segment of the squadron.
Throughout its history, VP-66 has forward deployed, providing contributory support to the fleet. Recent accomplishments include two five-week active duty periods in 1993 to Rota, Spain and Sigonella, Sicily. The missions operating in Sicily augmented active duty squadrons supporting the United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina including OPERATION SHARPGUARD. Annual Training in 1994 saw the LIBERTY BELLS deploy to Puerto Rico, directly supporting the U.N. embargo of Haiti. In June 1995, VP-66 aircrews and maintenance personnel operated from Puerto Rico in support of CNO directed Counter Narcotics (CN) operations. In March-May of 1996, VP-66 aircrews and maintenance personnel operated from NAS Keflevik, Iceland, joining VP-10 as part of "PATRON KEF" conducting Maritime Patrol Operations over the North Atlantic. In the Fall of 1996, VP-66 returned to NAS Sigonella, Italy for seven weeks, seamlessly integrating with VP-16 as members of "PATRON SIG" while supporting Mediterranean operations from bases in Italy, Spain, and most notably, Entebbe, Uganda in support of U.N. sponsored humanitarian efforts during OPERATION GUARDIAN ASSISTANCE.
Annual Training has found the Liberty Bells detached to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico and Howard AFB Panama in support of JIATF-South Counter Narcotic Operations. During this timeframe, several VP-66 crews were credited with locating several suspect drug running vessels, which were ultimately seized by authorities. Future AT periods will include dets to the PACOM AOR, as well as, UNITAS in South America.
VP-66 also performed the Electronic Warfare Training mission for the fleet. Since accepting the mission in 1993, VP-66 EP-3J aircrews conducted nearly 60 worldwide detachments in support of Second, Third, Sixth and Seventh Fleet Battle Groups. In 1997, these aircraft and personnel were established as a separate command, VQ-11, homeported in Brunswick, Maine.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to close Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, PA. As a result, VP-66 along with all Navy and Marine Corps squadrons at Willow Grove, their aircraft and necessary personnel, equipment and support, were recommended to relocate to McGuire Air Force Base.
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