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Wizards return to Whidbey

VAQ 133 Lt. Cmdr. Ariel Klein greets his 3-year-old daughter Katherine, and his wife, Kim, Sunday afternoon at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Approximately 200 service men and women returned this weekend from a six-month deployment at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
VAQ 133 Lt. Cmdr. Ariel Klein greets his 3-year-old daughter Katherine, and his wife, Kim, Sunday afternoon at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Approximately 200 service men and women returned this weekend from a six-month deployment at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

It was hugs, kisses and a few tears of joy this past weekend with the return of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s electronic attack squadron VAQ-133 after a six-month deployment to Al Asad Airbase in Iraq.

The squadron, also known as the Wizards, landed at NAS Whidbey late Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. The majority of the approximately 200 returning service men and women arrived in the middle of the night, but about 30 officers and support personnel got to greet their eagerly awaiting family members late Sunday afternoon.

Although also welcomed home to the Northwest by a chilly breeze and constant drizzle, the weather seemed to do nothing to dampen the occasion. The moment the roar of the last EA-6B Prowler shut down, loved ones rushed the airfield. Husbands kissed their wives, fathers crushed their children in long awaited hugs.

It’s a special moment, Lt. Cmdr. Ariel Klein said. Nearly every day he was gone, he spoke to his wife, Kim Klein, and 3-year-old daughter, Katherine, with the online video conferencing service known as Skype. While it was a comfort, it was no substitute for the real thing.

“It’s amazing to finally be home; to see them in something other than 10-second flashes, to hold my daughter again,” he said.

This deployment marked the last for the Wizards as an expeditionary squadron – a group that is based on land rather than an aircraft carrier. Once their leave is up, they will begin transitioning to a carrier-based EA-18G Growler squadron.

The Wizards flew 508 sorties, totaling 1,538 hours, resulting in a 99.8 percent mission completion rate. Commanding officer Cmdr. Clyde Mays passed out 206 awards, 28 Navy and Marine Corps achievement medals, and 21 good conduct medals.

The squadron’s maintenance team has also been selected as the Chief of Naval Operations nominee for the Secretary of Defense Maintenance Award. If they receive the honor, it will make them the top team for all of the country’s armed services.

“They’ve done phenomenal,” said Capt. Tom Slais, NAS’s squadron commodore.

The Wizards have had a demanding deployment schedule. Due to their rotation, they have been away for Thanksgiving and Christmas for at least the past three years, Slais said. To wrestle with that and still accomplish their professional achievements is impressive, he said.

“It’s significant,” Slais said.

Kim Klein said she also was proud of both her husband and his squadron’s accomplishments. However, even as this marks the end of his third deployment, the six-month absences are not getting any easier.

“It’s a really long time,” she said.

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