Philippine Sea - The Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 celebrated their 75th anniversary Oct. 10, 2017 onboard the Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) with a formation flight.
VFA-115 is one of the oldest active aviation squadrons in the Navy, a legacy going back to the beginning years of World War II.
"It's always special to be a part of any squadron that has a lot of history," said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Tickle, a pilot assigned to VFA-115. "The people that came before us paved the way for us to do what we do today and to be able to continue that legacy is an honor. To mark the 75th anniversary of the squadron while we're out here on deployment is pretty neat. The squadron has done a lot in the past 75 years."
The Eagles began as Torpedo Squadron (VT) 11 on Oct. 10, 1942 at Naval Air Station, San Diego. The first airframe they flew was the torpedo bomber TBF Avenger - later flying the TBM variant. They deployed to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, in April 1943 and conducted combat operations in support of the Solomon Islands and Bougainville campaigns. Shortly after, the squadron embarked on USS Hornet (CV 12) for operations at Okinawa, Luzon and Leyte Gulf. VT-11 members were awarded seven Navy Crosses for their efforts during the war.
"I think it's exciting and interesting that we've remained a Pacific-based squadron for 75 years fighting in every conflict that our nation has had here since World War II," said Cmdr. Sam Gray, commanding officer of VFA-115. "My grandfather flew torpedo bombers in the Pacific in World War II so to be able to be attached to a squadron that has that same lineage, although different squadrons, is pretty great for me. I think it's a great history."
The squadron participated in the Korean War, the Vietnam War and in Operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. It has also gone through three name changes and its pilots have flown five different airframes since World War II.
According to Gray, today, VFA-115 is the primary striking arm of Carrier Strike Group 5 and they're able to carry out strike missions to basically any range. They're also able to defend the fleet no matter where it goes in the area of responsibility. Currently, they fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet - they transitioned to the airframe in 2001 as the first fleet squadron to do so - and 75 years into the squadron's service life, VFA-115 is still going strong.
"Hopefully it's at least another 75 years of great, safe flying," said Gray. "I think there will probably be another airframe change in our future, maybe to F-35s, and if we go into the future long enough there might come a day when VFA-115 is flying aircraft without a person inside of it. I'm thinking it'd be pretty interesting to see how the next 75 years go."
As time goes on, the people and the way VFA-115 operates change accordingly, but the nature of the mission and the values that the men and women of VFA-115 uphold has remained the same since their early days.
"I - in no way - compare myself to the people that fought in World War II," said Tickle. "The men and women who took part in that were amazing individuals. We're trying to uphold the standards that they set. When you think about the history of the squadron, a lot has changed. The people have changed, the aircraft have changed; but what drives the men and women of the squadron is still the same. That dedication to our country, the loyalty to our country, wanting to make the country a better place, that's what we share in common, that's what we've kept through these last 75 years. As technology changes, our platforms will change but we still have that common belief inside of us."
Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.