OAK HARBOR — The "Rooks" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 137 will return to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station on Thursday after a six-month deployment for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The EA-6B Prowler squadron left for deployment Aug. 28 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The radar-jamming jets became the first Prowler squadron to operate from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
The six-month deployment was especially memorable for four aviators in the squadron: Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Ruth, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Craig, Lt. Steve Shauberger and Lt. j.g. Travis Hartman.
Seven hours into an 11-hour flight during the operations in Afghanistan, the dual temperature-control valves failed in the "full cold" position in the four aviator’s Prowler. The jet was flying at approximately 20,000 feet, and the aircraft’s environmental control system began pumping sub-zero temperature air into the cockpit.
Equipment in the cockpit began to malfunction, including Craig’s seat motor. The seat froze in the fully lowered position, leaving Craig unable to see over the Prowler’s glare shield.
The crew returned safely. They were later personally awarded the Air Medal by Gen. Richard Meyers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top military adviser to the president.
The medal is given to members of the military for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight; the awards to the Prowler aviators were presented with a V, for valor, during combat operations.
All told, aviators from VAQ-137 flew 520 missions and logged 1,130 hours in the air for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
VAQ-137’s four Prowlers are scheduled to return to Oak Harbor Thursday, and the squadron’s maintenance and support personnel will come home the next day.
The squadron has about 30 officers and 150 enlisted personnel, and 25 members of the Sea Operational Detachment from Whidbey’s Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Detachment also will come home next week. The detachment provides technical support to keep the Prowlers in top condition.
Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Herald file photo