ANATOMY OF A NAVAL AVIATOR
Ensign Jeff Anderson, was your average JO (Junior Officer) trying to make through Flight School and earn his Navy Wings of Gold. A great weekend with a beautiful woman started his education on the Unwritten Rules of Naval Aviation. A jealous Ex., called in a favor on the Good Old Boy network to keep Jeff and his new girlfriend apart. Jeff’s CO (Commanding Officer} ripped him a new one and threatened to terminate his career if he continued his relationship.
Caught in the middle of a power struggle, Ensign Anderson was the unfortunate victim. Jeff’s dreams are crushed when he was assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Twenty Four (VR-24), flying the CT-39G Sabreliner, at NAS Sigonella, Sicily. Jeff knew he was doomed by the reaction of his peers and the fact that he could not find the Naval Air Station (NAS) on a map of Sicily.
Jeff’s dread increased as he was introduced to his new Base, aircraft, and squadron mates. His professional development and education as a Naval Officer was going to be lead by a bunch of deadwood officers who each in their own turn, “Screwed up their own career.” VR-24 was a squadron were the “Best of the Best, did not go.”
The Navy’s 24-7 operational tempo and their motto of “Do more with less”, clashed heavily with the local’s laid back lifestyle. This constant friction always took a few points off the Fun Meter and made life miserable at Sig. (Sigonella).
The civil war in Lebanon thrust VR-24 out on the front lines supporting the Fleet at Bagel Station. VR-24 was a support unit, it was never equipped, maned, or prepared to be a squadron at the “Tip of the Spear.” As the Marines went ashore in Beirut to become part of the Multi-National Peace Keeping Force, the increased operational tempo stretched the talent and leadership of the unit.
The Operations Officer (Ops O) was the first person to distinguish himself in front of VR-24’s superiors. Trying to save the day for one of the helicopter crews on deployment in Cyprus he earned himself and the CO an ass chewing from the Commander, Sixth Fleet, a Vice Admiral. The Ops O quickly turned his wrath on his fellow officer to deflect the attention from himself.
The Ops O recognized that he had just earned the top spot on the squadron’s Shit List. The only way he was going to recover from that was to break out the Unwritten Rules of Naval Aviation to recover from his foul up. Jeff and his fellow JO’s education was now in full force. The inner workings of a Navy Squadron are revealed as VR-24 tries to maintain it’s operational requirements.
There was one constant at VR-24, Good news was always crushed by bad news. The Golden Boy, Lt. Reynolds finally received a reward for his stellar performance in the squadron and received a Warfare Transition out of the black hole that was the VR Community. The word from the Detailer was F-14’s, Lt. Reynolds was off to Fighter Town. But not so fast, in the Navy’s eyes VR is a pit that you only place things in to, you never pull anything back out. Lt. Reynolds orders are changed and squadron morale sinks to a new low.
The Commanding Officer of NAS Sigonella was preparing for his own Change of Command and had a lesson to teach to every officer on the Base. RHIP, Rank Has It’s Privileges, in a stunning display of bending or breaking every rule in the book. The Base CO ordered the CO of VR-24 to schedule a “Training Flight” to London for the Base CO’s enjoyment. A mishap with the Sabreliner costs the taxpayers dearly. To the amazement of all the officers at Sig., the Base CO demonstrated his kind of leadership and pressed home the fact that he could get away with murder.
The Black Stallions of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Four (HC-4) rolled into Sigonella. VR-24 had a new sister squadron take up residence and they assumed the mission as the primary VOD (Vertical Onboard Delivery) asset in the Med. This event had some very serious consequences for VR-24. The most serious was the transfer of all of the personnel in the helo component across the parking lot to HC-4. This stripped VR-24 of all of it’s quality Lieutenant Commanders (O-4’s). The presence of another squadron at Sigonella showed how fouled up VR-24 really was. The stressful Ops tempo and the lack of middle management talent quickly sent VR’s performance as a unit down the drain.
Sweeping things under the rug was the next big lesson provided by the Fleet and the senior officers stationed at Sigonella. The U.S.S. Saratoga was taking part in a major naval exercise off the coast of Sardinia. One of her stellar F-14 pilots decided to make it as real as possible, so he shot down a USAF RF-4C Phantom also taking part in the exercise. Oops, that was one of the good guys. On Base, the “Dyke Busters” start a series of confrontations with “The Family”, the local Navy lesbian community. All the senior officers on the Base scramble to GQ (General Quarters) to defuse and cover up the incidences in an effort to prevent their careers from being terminated.
Failure strikes at VR, all the negatives in the squadron come together, jump up, and bite everyone in the ass. The Maintenance Department fails a major aircraft inspection. This forces the CO to bring the hammer down on every member of the squadron, this only succeeds in bringing the squadron to it’s knees. In frustration the enlisted personnel strike back and sabotage the CO aircraft before one of his flights. The CO got the message, and backs off. In a change of tack, the CO taught a new lesson, lying to the Chain of Command.
Empires rise, the Navy’s time honored tradition of switching ground jobs moved Jeff out of the quagmire of the Maintenance Department. His new job was Security Manager, the power struggle begins as O-4’s and JO’s alike try to establish their place in the new pecking order of the squadron. VR-24 is ordered to retire it’s C-1A Trader aircraft and return them stateside. One of Jeff’s roommates scores the ultimate prize, a hot Swedish girlfriend who spends the summer at Sig. Yana becomes the bright spot of the year.
Empires fall, the Ops O, Lt.Cdr. Rendsburg finally falls on his sword for the last time. The Ops O’s arrogance and poor piloting skills has publicly embarrassed the CO for the last time. He is cast out of the Operations Department to the relief and delight of the squadron. Everyone assumed his reign of terror was over, but he continued to run the Ops Department from the shadows through his two well placed cronies.
Promotions, and the Dog and Pony Show highlight the summer. All of the Lieutenant Junior Grades are promoted to full Lieutenant. Navy tradition demands that all officers throw a Wetting Down Party for their fellow officers. A huge party is thrown at Jeff’s villa as the major social function of the summer. The CO’s wife gets a little too frisky with Yana’s boyfriend and gets into a tussle with her. After wasting the summer away, VR goes to GQ in preparation for their Command Inspection. The pain level steadily rises as the unit’s Dog and Pony Show is prepared for the Inspection Team.
VR-24 survived it’s Command Inspection, and for a change actually did well. The Gods and Murphy’s Law throw in a few welcome Snafu's to show the Inspection Team how high the pain level is being stationed at Sigonella.
Minority Quals, Jeff learned how the Navy created this problem with it’s policy of “Two Wrongs can always make it right.” VR’s new batch of deadwood O-4’s create an internal struggle that forced one of the O-4’s to utter the “P” word. That forced the CO into a “PC” (Politicly Correct) moment.
A career meltdown is the next soap opera to unfold and drag morale down into the dumper. The newly arrived Administrative Department Head pushed too hard in a futile attempt to get promoted. When he fails to make Commander, his bitterness causes a disgusting display of personal behavior. His actions cause him to expose the quotas hidden in the Promotion Preamble.
As one career evaporates, the new Ops O suddenly finds out he is a player. Screened for Command and selected for promotion to Commander, the Ops O has to recreate his image from the looser, to potential Commanding Officer material. The JO Golden Boy of the squadron received his prize, a Warfare Transition to A-6E Intruders. Arrogance again almost cost him his Wings as he is caught putting on an air show for his enlisted girlfriend. To the squadron’s disgust the Golden Boy proves once again that he is made of Teflon and skates out of trouble right before he departs from Sigonella.
Delta Force comes to town in response the TWA hijacking in Lebanon. VR-24 is once again thrust on to the front lines. The leadership that Delta Force exhibits again showed how screwed up VR and Sigonella really was.
More Delta Force action brings VR back to the Tip of the Spear. F-14’s intercept and force an Egypt Air 737 loaded with terrorist to divert and land at Sigonella. This created an intense standoff between the Americans and Italians. Jeff volunteers for a Special Mission with Delta Force. As the 737 departs the mighty Sabreliner is tasked to follow the Egypt Air flight and if possible effect a capture of the Terrorist by the Delta Force unit. This mission is Jeff’s fifteen minutes in the dark. For a short period of time Jeff and VR are no longer “Misfits” of the Fleet.