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Base bids aloha to Bennett

He led the Whidbey Prowler community through one of the most trying times in its history, but he came out smiling, as usual.

Capt. Brian Bennett served as commodore of Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet from June 2002 until May 28, when he was relieved by Capt. Chris Field. For someone with such a huge responsibility, Bennett was easily recognized around the Whidbey base by his easy grin and warm greetings.

During his tenure it was his task to hold the Prowler community together through the sometimes lengthy and trying deployments of nine of the 14 Whidbey EA-6B squadrons.

“I want to make sure the air crew is prepared to do what they need to do,” he said. “Doing my best to support them is the most rewarding part of my job.”

It’s a time of change in the Navy in general, as the military switches to the Fleet Response Plan, in which planes, ships and people must be ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

Bennett said he has worked to help the men and women under his command understand and deal with these changes.

“I tried to establish some stability in uncertain times, and provide some level ground on an emotional roller coaster,” he said.

Training and being ready to deploy also includes ensuring that the families left behind are taken care of, for peace of mind.

Bennett also faced the challenge of keeping the aging Prowlers flying, as they are integral to every mission. With the Prowlers flying the radar-jamming lead, one Prowler out of commission can scuttle an entire mission.

Bennett likened keeping the planes in the air to a game of musical chairs, swapping parts when needed to keep enough going. During his watch a Prowler dropped parts over Skagit County, and two planes were lost off of ships at sea. In spite of those setbacks, Bennett said the Prowlers maintained an 80 percent mission capable rate and no lives were lost.

In spite of their flaws, Bennett said he loves the EA-6B Prowler, and has a long history with it.

In March 1991 he joined the Zappers of VAQ-130 as maintenance officer, and completed a Mediterranean Sea deployment with the squadron aboard USS John F. Kennedy.

In June 1993 Bennett moved on to the executive officer position with the VAQ-141 Shadowhawks, completing two deployments aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt.

It was during this period that Bennett had some of his most memorable missions, including participating in the rescue of Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia.

Although Bennett has earned numerous awards, one of his greatest treasures is a 20-taka note from Bangladesh, which he carries in his wallet. It was given to him by a Bangladeshi United Nations worker who had been under fire in Bosnia, and was rescued when Prowlers provided air cover for Dutch F-16s firing on Serbian ground troops.

Following that squadron command, Bennett served as current operations branch chief and deputy director for crisis action to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command. In March 1999 he joined the staff of Commander Carrier Group Three as assistant chief of staff for operations, completing two deployments aboard USS Carl Vinson.

Bennett was aboard the Vinson, rounding the southern tip of India when he and his crewmates saw the World Trade Center attacks on CNN. Four battle groups with 60 U.S. and coalition ships went into defense force posture, unsure what the terrorists’ next target might be. Bennett was in charge of operations for all airborne units in Operation Enduring Freedom, not just a Prowler squadron.

Following that duty Bennett returned to Whidbey to assume command of Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, in June 2002.

Bennett is not all work and no play. His call name is “Disco,” and as he explained, he and his wife Debbie used to be competitive disco dancers, in the height of the Saturday Night Fever era.

Until he transfers shortly to Hawaii, he lives in Mill Creek with his wife and son Brandon, 17. He still dances, and is a regular at the Crystal Ballroom in Seattle on salsa night. He also collects athletic memorabilia, Japanese prints and handblown glass.

After wrapping up a special assignment at Naval Station Everett, Bennett will be heading to Hawaii, where he will report for duty as Deputy Operations Officer at Commander, Pacific Fleet.

Before he stepped down, Bennett took one last Prowler flight, fittingly with the Rooks. Joining him on the flight were Executive Officer Cmdr. Kevin Meenaghan, Lt. Cmdr. David Bryson and Lt. Graham Baldwin.

When the jet returned to the base Bennett was greeted by a large contingent of friends and co-workers, and a fire truck. Several officers assisted in hosing Bennett down.

As Bennett later told the base newspaper, “Although the weather wasn’t the greatest, it was a challenging and fun flight. Except for the end, when I got a little wet.”

Bennett, 46, is set to retire after 30 years about the same time the Prowler’s follow-on EA-18G is set to arrive.

“I would love to be on active duty long enough to get a ride on the EA-18G,” he said.

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