Something new is occupying the hangar of Electronic Attack Squadron 136.
The “Gauntlets” of VAQ-136 recently hung a large neon sign during an early celebration of the Growler squadron’s 50th anniversary.
The sign is six feet across but the accompanying painted lettering stretches even further.
The project was a collaboration between community members, members of the squadron and Tim Leonard, who owns the fabrication business Heavy Metal Works. Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Salcido of VAQ-136 spearheaded most of the creation of the sign.
Leonard owns an arcade in Langley, The Machine Shop, where he and Salcido met. Leonard said it was unusual to have people from North Whidbey interested in his sign-making business.
The two men talked about working on a sign for the squadron together.
“I think Ryan and I just hit it off,” Leonard said.
Heavy Metal Works is a tech bridge company, meaning it helps service members to gain valuable skills as they transition out of the military.
“It feels good to give back to those who have given so much,” Leonard said.
The sign’s construction began in January and involved a neon element in the shape of a sword, VAQ-136’s insignia.
“The sword represents kinetic power while the lightning, or fire, around the blade represents our core mission of non-kinetic power,” Salcido said.
Although not in neon, the sign also has a small Japanese kanji meaning “spirit of attack,” a nod to the symbol brandished by every VAQ-136 EA-6B and a representation of the command’s heritage as the U.S. Navy’s first and only permanently forward deployed EA-6B squadron for 32 years.
There is also a maroon stripe with Grumman planes inside it, representing VAQ-136’s heritage as a EA-6B platform.
Main Street Collision and Backwood Projects, two businesses in Oak Harbor, also helped with the painting of the sign and the accompanying letters that read “VAQ-136.”
Salcido brought the idea of the project to former VAQ-136 Commander Jan Paul two years ago.
“It’s a project born of squadron morale,” Paul said.
In September, the finished sign was finally hung in the squadron’s hangar bay.
VAQ-136 was established in 1973. Salcido said the squadron will be deployed in 2021 and 2022, which is why the sign had to be completed before VAQ-136’s 50th anniversary.
“You never want to wait till the last minute to celebrate anything,” Salcido said.