Source: United States Navy Pacific Fleet
MISAWA, Japan – The “Lancers” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 131 completed their first expeditionary deployment aboard Naval Air Facility (NAF) Misawa, Nov. 6.
As an expeditionary squadron, VAQ-131 now deploys their EA-18G Growlers to air bases worldwide and fluidly integrates with U.S. Air Force and foreign entities.
“Up until last year, we were a carrier air wing squadron and we would always deploy with the carrier strike group,” said Cmdr. Ryan Mattson, commanding officer for VAQ-131, a native of San Diego, California.
While deployed to NAF Misawa, VAQ-131’s primary objective shifted from their previous mission of supporting combat operations while deployed to the Middle East, to supporting security and stability operations in the Indo-Pacific.
“We integrated, almost daily, with the 35th Fighter Wing here in Misawa and the F-16’s from the 13th and 14th Squadrons,” said Mattson. “Even though we couldn’t detach anywhere due to COVID-19 restrictions, we flew really hard, and took advantage of every opportunity we had here to make sure that we could fulfill any requirement that was asked of us.”
Additional operations and exercises that VAQ-131 completed include, working with the P-8s from the “Screaming Eagles” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 1 during Exercise Keen Sword 21, integrating with the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), and working with other U.S. Air Force assets that would fly in and around Misawa.
Although this was their first expeditionary deployment, VAQ-131 made sure to make the most of every moment and proudly represented the U.S. Navy.
“It’s a little bit out of the ordinary, since I’ve done East Coast deployments, both of which were boat deployments, and I’ve never been to an Asian country,” said aviation electronics leading petty officer for VAQ-131, Aviation Electrician’s Mate 1st Class David Burnett, a native of Deridder, Louisiana. “It’s out of my wheelhouse, but I have enjoyed every minute that I have been here, from the food, to the culture, it has been great.”
VAQ-131 conducted 591 sorties, with 188 trilateral integrated sorties between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and Japan Air Self-Defense Force, with a combined total of 958.6 flight hours.
“Our mission and our focus will always be the same, come in, do our tasks, make sure that the aircraft are good to go, and ready to go, regardless if it’s time to go home or not, we’re going to give the best product we’ve got, and we are going to make sure that that product is ready to go,” said Burnett. “Then when it’s actually time to walk out the door, we’re going to walk out the door with our heads high, knowing that we gave the best product, to do the best mission, to do the best job.”
All the great success that VAQ-131 achieved during this historic deployment did not come so easily as they were met with challenge after challenge both during and before the deployment.
“While in its maintenance phase, the squadron was not planning on deploying until 2022,” said VAQ-131 Command Master Chief Samuel Vasquez. “It was kind of overnight, being told that you are no longer an Air Wing Squadron, and that you are expeditionary as of October, and that you will deploy within the March or April timeframe.”
Vasquez also said that this short turnaround required VAQ-131 to try and get their manning to where it needed to be, schedule and complete inspections, and resubmit all the paperwork required to get the squadron to Misawa, all before May.
Overcoming these several challenges was only the beginning of the success of VAQ-131’s first expeditionary deployment. In addition to accomplishing the mission, their humanitarian efforts helped to reinforce community relations within Misawa Air Base.
Sailors from VAQ-131 volunteered with PAWS Misawa, a non-profit stray animal facility on Misawa Air Base, and helped raise $980 for a new washing machine that will be used by PAWS officials to wash animal bedding and supplies.
They also volunteered with Sollars Elementary School on Misawa Air Base to assist in setting up books and supplies, and also helped clean the school as a COVID-19 countermeasure prior to the school opening.
Providing Sailors with opportunities to give back to the local community, as well as enjoy a little bit of rest and relaxation, helped keep morale up during the challenging times of COVID-19.
“VAQ-131 is the first squadron that I’ve been assigned to,” said Airman Christian Etoroma, a VAQ-131 plane captain and a native of Nigeria, West Africa. “I would advise anyone who visits, or comes here on deployment, to actually go and experience the culture. I know we can get stuck with how we do things in our old ways of life back home, but it is so important that when we go to other countries, we should visit the cultural places and see how things are done, that way we can increase our reasoning and sense of understanding.”
Several types of personnel achievements were also met during the deployment, including 35 personnel who earned their Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist (EAWS) insignia, which resulted in 86% of the personnel becoming qualified, awarding VAQ-131 with the EAWS pennant. They also had 24 Sailors advance to the next paygrade and celebrated nine Sailor’s re-enlistments.
“They went above what you expected of them because it’s a lot to do with the quick turnaround, especially for people with families, people on first deployments, and not having an understanding on how all of it works, and for them to be able to get past all of that, it speaks a lot about the type of Sailors we have in the Navy today,” said Vasquez. “They definitely executed flawlessly.”
The “Lancers” of VAQ-131 are being relieved by the “Black Ravens” of VAQ-135.
VAQ-131 is stationed on board Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Washington.
NAF Misawa provides aviation and ground logistics support and services to all permanent and transient U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps forces in Northern Japan.