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VAW-123 'Screwtops' Sailors Eyes, Ears of Strike Group

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS110606-08

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Peter D. Melkus, USS Enterprise Public Affairs

USS ENTERPRISE, at sea (NNS) -- As USS Enterprise (CVN 65) neared the last leg of its 21st deployment June 2, its Sailors reflected upon accomplishments over the past five months, many of which would not have happened without the advanced reconnaissance and mission coordination efforts of one of their embarked squadrons.

The command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) capabilities of the 'Screwtops' of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123, Enterprise Strike Group has been able to obtain timely, accurate and complete targeting information to strategically plan and successfully execute missions in support of operations New Dawn, Enduring Freedom and multiple anti-piracy efforts.

The Screwtops fly the E-2C Hawkeye, a twin-engine turbo-propeller aircraft capable of attaining speeds up to 300 knots and altitudes above 30,000 feet. With a gross weight of more than 25 tons, the Hawkeye is the largest aircraft currently operated from the flight decks of aircraft carriers. The Hawkeyes make up but a small number of aircraft onboard Enterprise; however, VAW-123's contributions to the mission belie the number of E-2Cs in their possession.

Commissioned in 1964 as VAW-12, the Screwtops originally flew E-2A Hawkeyes before switching to the E-2C model in 1973. An E-2C crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, combat information center officer, air control officer and radar officer. The five-person crew operates a wide array of state-of-the-art electronic equipment that is collectively called the Airborne Tactical Data System (ATDS). The heart of the ATDS is a powerful, long-range radar that transmits its energy through a 24-foot rotating antenna dome fixed atop the aircraft - a feature that ensures no E-2C will be hard to find amongst a crowd of dome-less jets.

"The versatility of our squadron's platform is our greatest asset," said Lt. Rebecca Ziaja, a mission commander with the Screwtops. "Whether we're helping to coordinate air-to-air communications and strikes, or making the C4I process run more smoothly between the air wing, ship, and strike group warfare commanders, everyone with the Screwtops plays a crucial role in accomplishing our missions."

Ziaja, who has logged nearly 200 E-2C flight hours during Enterprise's current deployment, attended an eight-week Air Intercept Controller course last year at the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor school, at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev. When not in the air, Ziaja said she uses her "TOPGUN" education to instruct controllers from Enterprise's Combat Direction Center on how to better integrate C4I technologies with Enterprise's strike fighter squadrons to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of mission assignments.

"We're a very service-oriented community, and we take a lot of pride in what we do to help out with the big picture," Ziaja said. "It's been awesome integrating with Enterprise and the air wing during this deployment. You'll almost always see Screwtops in other squadrons' briefing rooms because it's our job to learn their tactics in order to better serve them and help keep them safe in the air. We're the ones who must extend the line of sight for the strike group, and we want the fighters to know we've got their backs out there."

Many of the Screwtops' Sailors are maintenance personnel who work around the clock to ensure their E-2Cs' radars, communications and navigation systems are always ready.

"I really like all of the challenges my job presents on a daily basis," said Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class (AW) Adam Ressue. "Sometimes we have to think outside the box to troubleshoot problems we've never encountered before, but everyone goes out of their way to help each other out until the problem is solved."

Ressue said the diverse types of maintenance-related tasks he and his colleagues face every day can make their jobs quite fun, but they also understand the importance their maintenance in relation to completing successful missions.

"Our squadron is the eye in the sky for both the ship and the air wing, and it's our mission to see everything that's going on out there," Ressue said. "Our job is to make sure everything works, because [the Hawkeye] is pretty much just a passenger plane without the work we put into it."

When it comes to gathering and distributing valuable information to effectively fight battles, VAW-123 is known for delivering.

"I love flying in Hawkeyes," said Ziaja. "You don't get to pull a lot of 'G's like jets, but at the start of the day you still have a catapult, and at the end of the day you still have a trap. Plus, it's pretty cool working with others in the air and knowing how they all think and react to situations. We couldn't do our jobs up there without one another, and I wouldn't change it for anything."

Enterprise and Carrier Air Wing 1 are in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations and providing close-air support for Operation Enduring Freedom.

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