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Yellow Jackets return home in time for the holidays

Lt. Cmdr. Tom Clarity holds his daughter, Isla, 2-and-a-half, and his wife, Mary, holds baby Mae, 3-and-a-half months, as Isla plant a kiss on Mae’s head following her dad’s homecoming with VAQ-138 Friday. - Kathy Reed / Whidbey Crosswind
Lt. Cmdr. Tom Clarity holds his daughter, Isla, 2-and-a-half, and his wife, Mary, holds baby Mae, 3-and-a-half months, as Isla plant a kiss on Mae’s head following her dad’s homecoming with VAQ-138 Friday.
— image credit: Kathy Reed / Whidbey Crosswind

The Yellow Jackets, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s Electronic Attack Squadron 138 (VAQ-138), arrived home for the holidays Friday following a six-month expeditionary land-based deployment in Iraq to support Operation New Dawn.

The squadron left last May on short notice, flying five EA-18G Growlers across the Atlantic while coordinating multiple airlifts. The trans-Atlantic flight, including a KC-135 Strato tanker and a KC-10 Extender, marked only the second time an expeditionary Growler squadron has deployed.

“I had high expectations and they were exceeded,” said Cmdr. Tabb Stringer, VAQ-138’s commanding officer, in a news release. “The squadron’s professionalism was amazing despite not knowing where or when we would deploy. The stress of that uncertainty never showed in people’s attitude or performance.”

The squadron wasted no time, flying combat missions within 48 hours of arrival. A large part of that success is due to the hard work and dedication of the advance detachment sailors who had the responsibility of moving into dilapidated spaces left vacant and gutted for over two months. The fruits of their labor set the stage for VAQ-138’s 24/7 electronic combat support of U.S. and coalition ground forces serving in Iraq.

The Yellow Jackets flew 785 missions and 1,822 flight hours on this, their first deployment flying the EA-18G.

“I hope that we made a difference for the Iraqis and that Iraq goes on to be a stable democracy,” said Lt. Jared Allen. “It’s a good feeling to know that we are helping our own get home safely.”

In retrospect having been in-country to help build what the U.S. hopes will become a new and free Iraq, Stringer felt that the 24/7 operations schedule was tough, but definitely worth it.

“It’s rewarding to know every flight was a combat flight,” said Stringer. “We’re very lucky because, regardless of what happens after Operation New Dawn, we know that we’ve made a difference protecting our troops.”

Returning with the squadron are 17 members of the Van Operational Detachment from Fleet Readiness Center Northwest that provide technical support to keep the jets in top condition.

 

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