Commander Nicholas "Cheeze" Saunders

Commanding Officer, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 137

25 October 2020 CDR Saunders is a native of Castro Valley, California.  He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2001, earning his commission and a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science. He began flight training in July 2001, was designated as a Naval Aviator in August 2003 at NAS Meridian, Mississippi and reported to the Sharpshooters of VMFAT-101 to train in the FA-18C Hornet. 
 
CDR Saunders began his first operational flying tour in October 2004 with the Vigilantes of VFA-151.  He deployed twice with Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW 2) onboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72) and supported the tsunami disaster relief efforts in Banda Aceh, Indonesia as part of Operation Unified Assistance. 
 
Following his tour with VFA-151, CDR Saunders was selected to attend the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) in September 2007.  He was designated as a Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) upon graduation and remained at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) as a TOPGUN instructor.  During his tour at TOPGUN, he was qualified to fly the FA-18A-D, FA-18 E/F, F-16A/B, and was the United States Navy and Marine Corps Advanced Tactical Training Program (ATTP) Subject Matter Expert. 
 
CDR Saunders returned to the fleet in 2011, serving as a Training Officer for the Fighting Redcocks of VFA-22.  During this tour, CDR Saunders qualified as a Forward Air Controller Airborne (FAC(A)) and deployed with Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN (CVW 17) onboard USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  In March 2012, he reported to the Black Aces of VFA-41 serving as the Safety Officer, Administrative Officer, Maintenance Officer, and Operations Officer.  He deployed with the Black Aces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom onboard USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74).
 
Following his Department Head tour, CDR Saunders attended the U.S. Naval War College and graduated with a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies.  In January 2016, CDR Saunders reported to United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) in Stuttgart, Germany as an operations planner and the Protection Operation’s Branch Chief.  CDR Saunders screened for command and was slated to the Kestrels of VFA-137 assuming command 23 June 2020.
 
CDR Saunders has accumulated over 2,500 flight hours and 500 carrier arrested landings.  His awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Strike/Flight Air Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (2 awards), and Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal along with other campaign and service awards.
 
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