Lizard's Last Romp
|1995 Members||1995 Awards|
(Editor's note: The A-6 Intruder, now in its Echo model, is a 33 year old aircraft that has lived through many historical events. The A-6E is now going to be part of history with the aircraft being phased out of inventory. The following is a story submitted by Attack Squadron Ninety-Five, the Green Lizards, currently on cruise on board USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). The Squadron will be disestablished when they return to their home base of NAS Whidbey Island, Wa.)
NWSB145. Green Lizard 14-plane Fly By
By LT Dave Platte, Green Lizard reporter
(USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN CVN 72) (NWSB) -- In the most awesome display of carrier power projection since Doolittle's daring raid on Tokyo in 1942, the Green Lizards of Attack Squadron (VA) 95, launched all 14 of their A-6E Intruder bombers, off USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), deep into the heartland of Iraq on July 29 on a single, devastating long-range strike familiarization mission in support of Operation Southern Watch. See Photo.
On this auspicious occasion, the Green Lizards demonstrated once again their unparalleled ability to project the Navy's strike capability deep within the territory of a potential adversary. The Lizards had ample cause to show off their pride. Not many Squadrons three months into a grueling Arabian gulf deployment can put all their aircraft airborne fully mission capable, achieve 100 percent target acquisition, conduct a flawless 14-plane fly-by in formation and return to the ship for a 100 percent boarding rate all in one launch!
Long in the planning, the strike required the squadron to use the skills and talents of each member of the command to bring it off successfully. The much-vaunted Lizard maintenance team labored long hours in the days prior to the mission in an all-out effort to tweak peak performance from each jet. Meanwhile, in the mission planning rooms, teams of aircrew burned the midnight oil analyzing targets and constructing a detailed plan for each aspect of the flight.
The night before the big day, the squadron pulled all available squadron personnel from jobs not directly involved with the mission and dedicated them to the effort. This flexibility allowed the squadron to make effective last-minute preparations for the large-scale event.
As the red Arabian Gulf sun crept up over the horizon on the morning of the 29th, there was nervous anticipation on the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln. Aircrew arrived at their jets to find a flight deck full of Intruders. The emergence of aircraft NH502 on the ship's elevator coming up from the hangar bay below marked the completion of the flight deck's readiness.
With the deck now in "Intruder configuration", the tower issued the call to start engines. As ground crews busily completed the final stages of preparing each jet for launch, the Intruders taxied forward towards the ship's catapults. From the time the first jet was hurled by the Lincoln's catapults into the sky, it took less than ten minutes to get all 14 Intruders airborne. The flawless launch was followed by a quick rendezvous of the bombers 100 miles to the north over the Gulf.
As the Intruders went "feet dry" into Iraq, they began the tactical portion of their "deep interdiction mission" into hostile territory. Armed with HARM missiles and high-explosive bombs, the intrepid Green Lizards conducted attack runs on fourteen different targets with all planes reaching their "bombs-on-target" time simultaneously. As the "Intruder overcast" departed Iraq, 14 bombardier/navigators had found their targets and 14 pilots had flown flawless practice attacks. But the mission was not yet complete.
Just out of enemy territory, CDR Pieter Vandenbergh, Green Lizard commanding officer, marshaled all 14 of his aircraft into a massive formation to head back to the Lincoln. Setting up the formation took a little time and a great deal of concentration by each pilot, but the results would prove worth the effort.
All on board the Lincoln waited in tense anticipation as the tower announced that the Intruders were approaching the ship from astern at 500 feet above the water. All over the deck, eyes scanned aft into the hot and hazy gulf sky searching for the familiar round-nosed jets. Suddenly, out of the scorching mist, the entire squadron appeared, flying in tight formation. As the roar of the engines rumbled through the boots of those assembled on the flight deck, the 14 bombers passed overhead. The heart of the ship itself seemed to skip a beat as every soul on the deck paused for a moment just to watch the sight.
Afterwards, Vandenbergh observed, "The events of this historic day demonstrate to all that the Green Lizards can produce the results our nation demands even under the most challenging conditions. The pride and professionalism of each member of our squadron really made this happen. I'm proud of every one of them and I am proud to be a Green Lizard!"
To call this event historic is no exaggeration. Attack Squadron 95's last deployment, affectionately known as "The Lizards' Last Romp," also represents the twilight of the A-6E Intruder, an aircraft which has been the backbone of the Navy's air strike capability for 30 years and is currently being phased out of the defense inventory.
The venerable all-weather attack jet has seen action in every conflict the nation has been involved in since Vietnam. With the ability to carry more ordnance, launch a wider variety of space-age smart weapons, conduct day or night strikes over greater distances on internal fuel than any carrier borne aircraft before or since, and provide mid-air refueling support to other carrier jets, the Intruder represents the most versatile military aircraft in modern times.
For several members of the flight the mission represented important aviation career milestones. Six of the members in the formation earned the Navy's strike flight air medal that day for having flown twenty combat missions over Iraq. Vandenbergh, LT Sean Johnson and LT Jeff Vanlobensels each earned their first air medal. LT Bill Dion and LT Tad Stapleton each claimed their second air medal. It was the squadron's executive officer, LCDR Terry Kraft, however, who stole the show. On the day of the fly-over, the Operation Desert Storm veteran earned his fourth strike flight air medal.
The Green Lizards are scheduled to remain in the Arabian Gulf through late August, conducting missions in support of Operation Southern Watch. The squadron is then scheduled for some well-earned rest and relaxation at port calls in Perth, Australia and Hobart, Tasmania. After that, the long trip home begins. In October the squadron is due to arrive back home at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., and will be disestablished on November 18.
For now, all members of the squadron remained fixed on the work at hand; providing our nation with the ability to project power "Intruder style" deep into the heartland of any potential foe.