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Shadowhawks Overcome Challenges, Establish Land-Based Prowler Presence in Iraq

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS051213-14
Release Date: 12/13/2005 6:49:00 PM

By Journalist 2nd Class Stephen Murphy and Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Matthew Bash, USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs

ABOARD USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (NNS) -- During their current deployment with USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the Shadowhawks of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8’s Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 have overcome many challeges in establishing themselves as the first Navy Prowler squadron to set up operations at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.

The electronic warfare capabilities of the Shadowhawks’ EA-6B Prowlers is enhancing the efforts of Marine Electronic Attack Squadron (VMAQ) 1 to provide aerial support for U.S. Marine Corps ground forces in Iraq.

The Shadowhawks were first called upon to establish a long-term presence in Iraq Sept. 17. Just days into the deployment, personnel from VAQ-141 – 13 officers and 49 enlisted – departed TR while the ship was anchored for a port visit to Palma De Mallorca, Spain, for a three-week deployment to Al Asad.

The Shadowhawks quickly learned that they would have to overcome several challenges presented by their new temporary home. The work facilities had limited electrical access and were without telephone or computer hookups.

“We expected the conditions to be as we found them, and it didn’t really matter to us [at the time] because we knew we would only be there for three weeks,” said VAQ-141 Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Mark Curley.

With help of the Marines of VMAQ-1, who provided communications equipment and helped with maintenance needs, the Shadowhawks were able to get their Prowlers in the air. By mission’s end, VAQ-141 had conducted 37 combat sorties, with a total of 165 hours of flight time.

Shortly after returning to TR the Shadowhawks learned that what they thought would be a one-time experience was about to turn into a long-term presence. The decision was made to send VAQ 141 personnel back to Al Asad, this time for an indefinite period of time.

“Being the first Navy Prowler squadron to set up a permanent operational presence in Al Asad presented challenges that were unforeseen," Curley said. "It became apparent that we had our work cut out for us.”

The new prospect of a land-based deployment that would last several weeks placed the Shadowhawks in a situation where they would have to find resources needed to build a detachment that could be almost completely self sufficient for an unknown amount of time.

The need for a building to operate from, the ability to communicate within Al Asad and back to TR, the need for vehicles, sleeping quarters, work spaces, offices and, more importantly, the capability to perform proper maintenance operations, became unexpected challenges for VAQ 141.

"It was almost like a homeport change because you are basically going to a base where they aren’t quite set up to accommodate you,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic (Equipment) 1st Class Richard Peterson.

“We had to go ahead and actually build a presence there completely from scratch,” Curley said. “We had to find these items, and in a war zone you aren’t going to find this stuff just sitting around.”

Once again the Shadowhawks sought the support of VMAQ-1, but this time the crew was hoping to establish a solid and lasting presence not only for themselves, but also for the sake of any future Navy squadrons deploying to Al Asad.

The first step was to learn how to work within the Marine Corps supply system, and VMAQ-1 was there to assist. Once VAQ-141 personnel gained a better understanding of how the supply system worked, it became much easier to locate and receive needed supplies.

“We developed a good working relationship with VMAQ-1,” Curley said. “We were able to help each other out with parts and technical support if necessary.”

The Shadowhawks found the answer to their communication needs when they made contact with Marine Air Group (MAG) 26. It was through MAG-26 that VAQ-141 was able to obtain UHF and VHF radios, and necessary telephone and computer hook ups.

In only a few short weeks, VAQ-141 went from having an open-bay hangar with no shops and only a 12-foot by 10-foot operations space, to having seven well-lit and heated maintenance spaces with parts storage, an operations space with five office spaces, a ready room, and an established communications system.

“With all that we have learned, from the combat operations and tactics our aircrew and aircraft employ from Al Asad Air Base, to the logistics involved with working, operating and living in an expeditionary combat environment, we have built a set of standard operating procedures for any Navy VAQ squadron that deploys into Al Asad after we leave near the end of TR’s deployment,” said Curley.

“I couldn't be more proud of all of the Shadowhawk Sailors,” said Cmdr. Craig Clapperton, VAQ 141 executive officer. “This was a total team effort from our Sailors in the detachment and our Sailors on the carrier. Our Sailors showed determination, persistence and a great deal of ingenuity. They built all of this from scratch, and they accomplished all of this while executing more than 500 flight hours and 100 combat sorties.”

Al Asad Air Base is home to 12,000 service members who are a mix from each of the U.S. military branches. The base is centrally located in Iraq, allowing for readily available air support with nearly every type of U.S. military aircraft in existence.

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