VFA-86 sailors return to Beaufort

20 Mar 2009 | Lance Cpl. Kel Clark

After four weeks of training aboard the USS Nimitz, the Sidewinders of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 returned to the Air Station Saturday.

The squadron conducted tailored ships training availability exercises, or TSTAs, which integrated the squadron with the ship to bring everyone up to speed with how things are done aboard the ship.

“This was a part of a series of detachments, known as ‘work-ups,’” said Lt. j.g. William Rietveld, the VFA-86 public affairs officer. “The air wing participated in these exercises as training for future deployments.”

The USS Nimitz, which is based out of San Diego, operated off the coast of Southern California for the 24-day-at-sea period.

“This was a totally new ship for all of us,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristina Llorens, a VFA-86 aviation machinist mate. “I was on the flight deck as a plane captain, and it was really neat to see the West Coast while aboard the ship.”

During the detachment, the Sidewinders worked with VFA-41, VFA-14, VFA-97, all based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 135, based out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in Oak Harbor, Wash., and the Carrier Airborne Command and Control Squadron One One Seven, or VAW-117, stationed at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif., for the TSTAs.

While at sea, the VFA-86 carrier participated in cyclic operations while flying numerous air-to-air and air-to-ground sorties. A sortie is a deployment or dispatch of one military unit. There were also 14 pilots that qualified for these operations while on ship.

“The VFA-86 maintenance crew performed exceptionally, keeping aircraft in ready-for-flight status in challenging conditions onboard the Nimitz,” Rietveld said.

Two VFA-86 sailors, Seaman Matthew Winge and Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas Witt, both aviation structural mechanics, were recognized by Navy Capt. Michael C. Manazir, the commanding officer of USS Nimitz. The sailors were recognized for their outstanding performance aboard the flight deck of the ship and were awarded “Sailor of the Day” and got the opportunity to tour the bridge of the Nimitz and speak with Manazir.

The detachment provided the Sidewinders with the opportunity to gain experience in carrier operations for young groups of pilots and sailors for future deployments, Rietveld said.
“We’re all excited to return home,” Llorens said. “It had to be the hardest for our families, being gone all this time, but it’s great to be back and see them again.”