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Flyers feel less welcome overseas

Returning fliers from the VAQ-132 “Scorpions” were warmly greeted by family members Dec. 22 after returning from a six-month deployment in the Middle East and Mediterranean. - File photo
Returning fliers from the VAQ-132 “Scorpions” were warmly greeted by family members Dec. 22 after returning from a six-month deployment in the Middle East and Mediterranean.
— image credit: File photo

VAQ-132 “Scorpions” from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station spent June through December flying missions in the Middle East and Mediterranean, and Cmdr. Bill Reavey said a lot has changed since the last time he was there.

“The sentiment in the Mediterranean is not what it was,” Reavey told Oak Harbor Navy League members Tuesday, sharing recently declassified information from the deployment. The Scorpions were based on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the Mediterranean

In the debriefing Reavey said sailors were attacked on the streets while on shore leave in Crete.

“A lot of people don’t view us in friendly terms overseas anymore,” he said. “I was surprised and disappointed.”

As the court of world opinion increasingly disfavors U.S. military action in Iraq, the NAS Whidbey Island-based VAQ-132 crew was flying into the eye of the political hurricane.

During 108 fly days and 66 days either in transit or in port the electronic attack squadron participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Southern Watch in the no-fly zone of Iraq.

The Scorpions had the opportunity to fly over both Middle Eastern countries, and while both are mostly desert, the contrast was striking.

“Iraq looks like the garden state compared to Afghanistan,” Reavey said. “I really feel bad for those people, and what they went through under the Taliban.”

For OEF the Scorpions were on “24-7 alert,” flying long hours in support of Special Operations.

Reavey said the long flights, some up to eight hours, took their toll on the aging EA-6B Prowlers. One of the jets is 30 years old. With age comes increased maintenance and increased worry.

“An oil leak over hostile territory is a big deal,” Reavey said.

He commended the efforts of the enlisted support crews on board the ship that kept the Prowlers flying.

Reavey also said the Prowlers have a goal of providing better support for conventional ground troops, and working closer with the Navy’s tactical electronic reconnaissance squadrons.

“We’re working together to bring a better fight to the DoD (Department of Defense),” he said.

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