Yellow Jackets, blue skies and red flag

LCDR Brian Johnson and LT Rodrigo Simoes go over pre-flight checks with AE3 Matthew Benson and ADAN Kimberly Burns on the Red Flag line. PHOTO COURTESY OF US NAVY

The Yellow Jackets of VAQ-138 hit the road again in February as they took off for Red Flag, a month-long training exercise with the US Air Force designed to simulate real-world combat conditions.

Fresh from their detachment to NAS Fallon, the Yellow Jackets were well prepared for the intense, fully integrated approach to air-operations.

VAQ-138 provided dedicated Electronic Attack in support of simulated strikes involving many different aircraft from multiple services and countries, including the US Army, Air Force and Marines, as well as the Royal Air Forces of Great Britain and Australia.

Throughout the exercise the name of the game was flexibility as the squadron adapted to evolving scenarios, packed schedules, and a demanding flight and maintenance rotation.

The day/night schedule became more pronounced later in the exercise, with night crews landing during the early desert sunrise of Las Vegas.

Yellow Jacket IS3 Fredrick Bondurant said, “Well, I think VAQ-138’s participation in Red Flag ‘11-3 has really set the bar for all Growler squadrons to follow.” His enthusiasm was matched by the Yellow Jacket maintenance team, as they rose to the challenges of Red Flag by providing two to three fully-ready aircraft for two missions per day.

According to AT1 Chad Sweetser, “This Red Flag was a great experience for the aircrew and maintenance personnel.

“The training we’ve completed has been instrumental in preparing the Yellow Jackets for our upcoming deployment and has established an effective working relationship between aircrew and the maintenance department.”

As the squadron saw, this relationship would be even more important in the second week of Red Flag, with the increased tempo.

In addition to completing their mission at Nellis, VAQ-138 also qualified its personnel in the M-9 and M-11 pistol; conducted a missile-shoot detachment to Lemoore, Calif.; and hosted a visit from Capt. Thomas A. Slais, then Commander of Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

On their missile-shoot detachment to NAS Lemoore, VAQ-138 successfully launched an AIM-120 AMRAAM and an AGM-88 HARM to maintain their combat proficiency with those weapon systems.

The pistol qualifications for the Yellow Jackets excelled thanks to the hard work of GM2 Laura Needham, who supervised two continuous weeks of pistol-quals for her fellow Yellow Jackets.

With all the extra commitments, VAQ-138 still didn’t miss a beat, completing over 107 missions.

This strong, sustained performance allowed the Yellow Jackets to earn several Level III qualifications for their junior officers.