By Lt. J.G. Layne Morrison
The men and women of Patrol Squadron 46 returned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island after a six-month deployment to the 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.
While deployed, the “Grey Knights” simultaneously operated from four expeditionary detachment sites in Bahrain, Japan, Turkey and Djibouti, where they provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and conducted anti-submarine warfare to advance U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command lines of operation.
The squadron is attached to Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10, and was led by commanding officer Cmdr. Derrick Eastman. It consists of 346 personnel and nine P-3C “Orion” aircraft.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team’s performance over the past six months,” said Eastman. “Their laser-focus and total dedication to safely and effectively complete our mission across three numbered fleets was nothing short of amazing.”
In CENTCOM, the squadron flew hundreds of missions in support of Operations Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria and Restoring Hope in Yemen. While in theater, the Grey Knights witnessed the coalition make significant advances in the fight against ISIS, including the liberation of Mosul, Iraq and several Syrian cites.
“The Grey Knight maintainers overcame a ton of logistical challenges to keep the planes flying, which made the deployment a great success,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Spencer Greer.
Greer added that he “liked being able to work at multiple (detachment) sites because it helped break up the deployment.”
In PACOM, operating from Kadena Air Base, Japan, two Orions and a detachment of 41 Grey Knights conducted ISR operations, ASW, and provided direct support to a Carrier Strike Group, which contributed to the increased maritime domain awareness and supported the fleet commander’s objectives.
“It’s been an honor to work alongside the ‘oldest and the best’ throughout this deployment knowing that I am part of something greater than myself,” said Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Javier Fernandez after spending most of his time in the 7th Fleet AOR.
By the numbers, the Grey Knights flew from seven countries in three areas of responsibility, safely executed 650 sorties that generated 5,046 flight hours (4,480 operational with a 99 percent mission completion rate), completed 8,133 maintenance actions that encompassed 30,423 man-hours, changed 10 engines, replaced six propellers, advanced 28 sailors in rate (five meritoriously), earned 86 Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist pins, made 27 collateral duty inspectors, 20 collateral duty/quality assurance representatives, 13 quality assurance representatives, and one aircraft safe-for-flight controller.
VP-46 was able to rotate aircrew and maintainers between the four detachment sites, which enabled these Grey Knights to gain cross-AOR experience, and increased their capacity to effectively execute the mission anytime, and from anywhere.
“Being on deployment in the 5th Fleet areas of responsibilities, executing the missions like we did, gives me a sense of pride in what we do to ensure freedom for our citizens and our allies,” Said Naval Aircrewman (Operator) 2nd Class Brody Robertson, an acoustic operator. “It brings me great satisfaction knowing what we do matters.”
“Being on a quad-site deployment gave us many challenges but also many diverse opportunities. Many of our aircrews got to fly a variety of missions and our maintainers were able to work from different locations,” said Lt. Nara Nelson, one of VP-46’s patrol plane commanders.
“I found the deployment to be a great experience for a new sailor. I was able to go off base and interact with different cultures.” Information Systems Technician Seaman Andrew Morgan said.
“One of the good things about this deployment was that I got the chance to explore other countries,” said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Deion Masterson.
“Not only was this my first deployment, but it was also my first time traveling outside the United States,” Masterson added. “I got the chance to go out into Bahrain and meet new people from different backgrounds and religions.”
Back in battery, the squadron will have an opportunity to take leave and reconnect with family and friends. But, as an operational squadron, the Grey Knights won’t have too much time before the heavy lifting of Inter-Deployment Readiness Cycle kicks in.
With several varsity-level exercises on the horizon, including the Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii and Composite Training Unit Exercise/Ocean Command in San Diego, the Grey Knights will spend the next year honing their warfighting skills.
“Deployments are tough, but when you practice against the best every day, you gain the confidence and ability to overcome any challenge,” said Eastman “I am confident in my team, and I am positive they will prove once again why the Grey Knights are known as ‘the oldest and the best.’”