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VAQ-130 returns home to Whidbey Island
Aircrew of Electronic Attack Squadron 130 Zappers were welcomed home with open arms Thursday following a nine-month deployment.
“He’s gonna see his daddy today,” said Katelin Grant of her 16-month-old son, Benjamin.
Grant’s husband, Lt. Cmdr. Jim Grant, was among the 10 Zapper aircrew to arrive at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Thursday to be greeted by a crowd of military personnel and excited family members.
The pilots and their electronic warfare officers flew the squadron’s five EA-18G Growlers back to NAS Whidbey from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman. VAQ-130 is the second carrier-based squadron to deploy using the Growler and the fourth aircraft in the squadron’s history.
Squadron support and maintenance personnel were airlifted in on Friday.
Coming home after such a long deployment means a lot to the squadron, according to Lt. Scott Brazelton, an aviator with VAQ-130.
“It’s gonna mean everything,” Brazelton said shortly before the aircrew arrived Thursday. “This is one of the longer deployments VAQ has done.”
“It’s a long time for sailors to be away from their families.”
Brazelton said the squadron is guaranteed a couple weeks of post-deployment leave, but that it’s possible they could be deployed again shortly if Navy leadership requires it.
“The real heroes of this deployment are the families of VAQ-130 and our sailors,” Cmdr. Jeff Chism, VAQ-130’s commanding officer, said in a news release. “They have endured over 400 days of separation since we began preparations for deployment back in September of 2012.
“I am humbled by their service to our nation and proud to serve alongside them.”
The squadron originally deployed in July 2013, starting in Virginia, followed by continued training in the Azores in Portugal. They also trained off the coast of Spain, France, Italy and Greece, and were allowed a port call in Marseille, France.
The Zappers went on to support forces on the ground in Afghanistan for approximately seven months, during which time they flew 226 combat missions and completed 1,596 combat hours over Afghanistan.
Chism said these lengthy missions, at times spanning eight hours in duration, were made possible by the hard work of the squadron.
In addition to supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, the Zappers conducted joint flight operations with the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, in January 2014.
Although VAQ-130 spent most of their time working aboard the Harry S Truman, the squadron did make three Middle Eastern port calls each in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Manama, Bahrain.
A final port call was allowed in Palma, Spain.