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MISAWA, Japan - Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 132 completed a six-month deployment aboard Naval Air Facility Misawa, Feb. 2.
Having been in northern Japan since July 2012, the "Scorpions" and their aircraft are returning to their home base at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, located in Oak Harbor, Wash.
This was the first expeditionary deployment of the EA-18G Growler in the U.S. Pacific Command theater of operations.
"The previous deployments were combat missions, whereas being deployed to Misawa, all of our flying was done was in support of exercises so the urgency to get airborne to provide support to folks in trouble was not there," said Cmdr. Dave Kurtz, VAQ-132 commanding officer and who hails from Coatesville, Penn.
Their missions were designed to provide training to expound upon pilot and aircrew knowledge of the aircraft's capabilities, as well as providing interoperability opportunities with sister services and coalition forces.
"On this deployment, we conducted eight separate exercises in four different countries including the U.S. when we went back to Guam and operated in Valiant Shield '12," said Kurtz. "We also worked with the Japan Ground and Maritime Self-Defense Forces, Republic of Singapore Air Force and Navy, Republic of Korea Air Force and Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Navy."
One of the most prominent operations VAQ-132 took part in was sending a detachment to RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, Australia, to take part in the bilateral exercise, "Growler 12." VAQ-132 worked side-by-side with the RAAF's No. 1 Squadron, which currently flies the F/A-18F Super Hornet, and is currently the only other country, besides the U.S., to convert their existing Super Hornets into the Growler platform. This platform primarily provides electronic warfare capability.
"I think we laid a lot of ground work there," said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Curran, VAQ-132 operations officer and originally from Anacortes, Wash. "That was a great period on deployment, I'd definitely say we were blazing new trails."
Being deployed to Misawa and then deploying to smaller detachments around the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations isn't without its own set of unique obstacles.
"Because this deployment was the first of its type for the squadron, one of the biggest things was networking, computer connectivity," said Curran. "Additionally, the supply chain was something that was new and different, which presented challenges for getting parts for the aircraft."
Also, being the first Growler squadron to deploy in this fashion meant there was no corporate knowledge for VAQ-132 to pull from.
"The primary challenge of this deployment, was the number of exercises that we did at locations where the Growler had never operated before. We found ourselves having to write the playbook."
Had it not been for the ground crew in the squadron, a lot of tasks the squadron faced may not have been met with the success.
"They played a huge role in this, they worked hard all day long, encountering a lot of unknowns along the way," said Curran. "But they kept plugging away, doing the best they could and they did a great job."
Even with the first-time challenges they faced, the Scorpions still managed to fly roughly 400 sorties and clock in more than 800 flight-hours.
While the deployment was rigorous, the squadron members also had time to a little more freedom than their carrier-borne counterparts. Being deployed in an expeditionary capacity has its advantages too.
"Coming here, the amenities and liberty opportunities our folks had were nothing short of awesome," said VAQ-132 Command Master Chief Chad Lukehart, who hails from Vale, Ore. "Our first term Sailors probably get a little spoiled with a deployment to Misawa since isn't the norm, but it's a great place to be.
"We appreciate the support we've received here in Misawa," he said. "Any time we needed anything at all, people were dropping everything they had to make sure we were taken care of. It's been a great deployment."