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Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 “Cougars”

The History of VAQ-139

(If you want peace, prepare for war)

The Cougars of VAQ-139 became operational on 1 July 1983 under the command of CDR Richard A. Clark while flying the ICAP (Improved Capability) EA-6B Prowler.  During their first year of operation, the Cougars, home-based at NAS Whidbey Island, WA, participated in numerous operations.  In 1985, the Cougars embarked on their inaugural deployment to the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) and Indian Ocean (IO) onboard USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) as a part of CARRIER AIR WING FOURTEEN (CVW 14).  That same year they were awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation.  1986 proved to be an outstanding year for the young squadron, as the Cougars were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation and also won the “triple crown” of the Prowler community by winning the 1985 CNO Safety “S,” first place in the 1986 Battle Readiness Competition, and the 1985-86 Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Battle Efficiency “E” Award.  From April to October 1987, the Cougars went on a WESTPAC/IO deployment on CV-64, which included carrier operations while at anchor in the Diego Garcia lagoon.  They maintained their standard of excellence by earning a second CNO Safety “S” and a Navy Expeditionary Service Medal.  The Battle “E” awarded in 1988 was the squadron’s second consecutive award.  1988 concluded with the Cougars beginning a WESTPAC/IO deployment.

After transitioning to USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62) in late 1989 the Cougars left on a WESTPAC/IO deployment in June 1990.  They were an essential part of the first coalition response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait during Operation DESERT SHIELD.  The Cougars led numerous missions deep into the Arabian Gulf and significantly contributed to the contingency planning in anticipation of Operation DESERT STORM.  1990 also saw a third CNO Safety “S,” a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Southwest Asia Service Medal awarded to the squadron.

In 1993, the Cougars made the transition to USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70). In February of 1994, the Cougars went on a WESTPAC/IO deployment during which they earned the CVW-14 “Top Hook.”  They were awarded the Prowler Tactical Excellence Award and the CNO Safety “S” for superior performance and safe practices throughout 1994.

In May of 1996, the Cougars earned the coveted “triple crown” for the second time, receiving the Battle “E,” CNO Safety “S,” and Admiral Arthur W. Radford Award for the most outstanding Prowler Squadron in the U.S. Navy.  1997 brought another carrier transition for the Cougars, this time to USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72).  The Cougars embarked on a WESTPAC deployment in June of 1998 in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.  They also earned the 1998 CNO Safety “S” that year. 
The Cougars deployed in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH again in 2000.  They received the prestigious COMNAVAIRPAC Battle “E” for excellence in combat for the year 2000.  July 23, 2002, the Cougars departed for a scheduled six-month WESTPAC/IO deployment in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM over Afghanistan and SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq, earning them the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.  The close of 2002 brought with it numerous awards for VAQ-139.  For the third time in the squadron’s history, the Cougars earned the coveted “triple crown” by receiving the Battle “E,” CNO Safety “S,” and Admiral Arthur W. Radford Award.  
On New Year’s Day 2003, while transiting back to the United States, USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, was tasked with supporting Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.  The Cougars supported strikes deep into Iraq during the first night of the war, and eventually flew 61 combat missions and fired 17 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM).  Following three weeks of intense combat operations, LINCOLN left the Arabian Gulf and headed home.  Arriving home in May 2003, LINCOLN completed nearly 10 months at sea.  For their tireless efforts, the Cougars were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and a second Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.  
In May 2004, the Cougars and CVW-14 deployed to the Pacific for the last time with Block 89 Prowlers, this time onboard USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74).  Upon returning home in November 2004, the Cougars were awarded CVW-14’s Golden Wrench Award for outstanding aviation maintenance and the 2004 CNO Safety “S.”  In their tradition of leading the fleet, the Cougars made history again on March 18th, 2005 when they accepted the first Improved Capabilities (ICAP) III Prowler.  With this new platform, the squadron became the forefront of tactical development in the Electronic Attack community. This tactical development and the advanced technology of the ICAP III Prowler paved the way for the development of the EA-18G Growler. The Cougars finished out an already remarkable year with another award, the 2005 CNO Safety “S.” 
In early February 2006, VAQ-139 was the first squadron to fly the ICAP III Prowler in combat. They supported United States and Coalition forces in Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.  
The Cougars flew over 650 sorties and 1650 combat hours over three and half months while conducting split-site operations from USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) and Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.  The Cougars returned from deployment and received the 2006 Prowler Squadron of the Year for Tactical Excellence.  They also received the 2006 CNO Safety “S,” CVW-14’s Golden Wrench Award, the Association of Old Crows Award for Electronic Warfare Excellence, the Grampaw Pettibone Award, and the Iraqi Campaign Medal.  
In January 2007, the Cougars and CVW-14 were unexpectedly called to duty for a WESTPAC surge deployment.  For three months the Cougars and the REAGAN patrolled the seas of the Western Pacific filling in for the USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63) while it was in port for scheduled maintenance.  The Cougars once again made Prowler history by being the first operational squadron to fly the EA-6B with a new digital flight control system.
In May 2008, the Cougars began their next scheduled WESTPAC/IO deployment.  They supported survivors of Typhoon Fengshen, which had affected nearly five million people in the Philippines.  Following their humanitarian work, they headed to the Northern Arabian Sea to support U.S. and Coalition Forces on the ground in Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terrorism.  The Cougars were awarded the Battle “E,” the CNO Safety “S,” and the Humanitarian Service Medal.  
In May 2009, the Cougars returned to sea for a Surge WESTPAC/IO deployment.  They continued their support of U.S. and Coalition Forces during overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan.  Following their return in October 2009, the squadron became the first to accept the newest version of the Prowler, ICAP III, Block IV.  
At the beginning of 2010, the Cougars assisted VX-9 in the operational evaluation of the Block IV aircraft, testing various capability improvements to the ICAP III weapon system.  In February and March, the squadron participated in Red Flag, a large force exercise with U.S. and foreign Air Force participants held at Nellis Air Force Base. In March, the Cougars sent two aircraft to Naval Air Station Lemoore to participate in a HARM live-fire exercise.  
In April the Cougars started the work-up cycle in preparation for their upcoming deployment.  In July the Cougars took part in RIMPAC exercises off the coast of Hawaii, during which they shot two HARM at the Ex-USS ANCHORAGE. 
In September the Cougars participated in AIR WING Fallon in order to sharpen their war fighting skills along with CARRIER AIR WING FOURTEEN. With AIR WING Fallon complete the Cougars returned home to Whidbey Island to begin preparing for its 2011 Arabian Gulf combat deployment onboard USS RONALD REAGAN. 

USS RONALD REAGAN and CARRIER AIRWING FOURTEEN departed from San Diego, Harbor in February 2011. While on deployment, VAQ-139 received the 2010 Association of the Old Crows Award for Electronic Attack Excellence and the 2010 Admiral Arthur W. Radford Award for Meritorious Operational Achievement by Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron. While deployed VAQ-139 conducted missions in support of Operation NEW DAWN (Iraq) and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (Afghanistan) providing around the clock Electronic Warfare Support to coalition forces engaged in combat.
After this deployment, the Cougars transitioned from the battle tested EA-6B Prowler to the state-of-the-art EA-18G Growler.  Upon completing the transition, the Cougars began work-ups for their inaugural EA-18G deployment with CARRIER AIR WING 17 (CVW-17).  
During September of 2013 VAQ-139 conducted the first successful live fire of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).  Following this event, the Cougars flew the combat-loaded Growler aboard the USS CARL VINSON for Tailored Ship’s Training Availability (TSTA).  After the New Year the Cougars returned home to NAS Whidbey Island.
In the spring of 2014 the Cougars participated in AIR WING Fallon and Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX). During these events, VAQ-139 exceeded every standard of tactical excellence in the EA-18G.  At the completion of COMPTUEX, VAQ-139 was designated combat-ready and headed home to NAS Whidbey Island to make final preparations for deployment. While deployed on what would be the longest carrier deployment since the Vietnam War, the Cougars supported OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE and provided over 75% Airborne Electronic Attack support in theatre. During the deployment, the Cougars were awarded the 2014 CNO Aviation Safety Award, the 2015 Commander Electronic Attack Wing Pacific Fleet (CVWP) Semi-annual Safety “S,” the Commander Naval Air Forces (CNAF) Blue “M,” and the 2014 U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Retention Excellence Award. The Cougars returned home in June of 2015.
Since returning from deployment, the Cougars have maintained a high level of readiness and tactical expertise. During the rest of 2015, the Cougars flew a total of 529.7 flight hours, and participated in the USAF Weapons School’s Advanced Integration 15B, an exercise that included a combined 102 sorties and 216.8 flight hours.
During 2016, VAQ-139 participated in five major detachments and several maintenance detachments to support the needs of the fleet. These include two carrier qualification detachments, two to Nellis AFB, NV to participate in exercises with the USAF, and a detachment to NAS Fallon, NV in support of Electronic Warfare Advanced Readiness Program (EWARP) with the Electronic Attack Weapons School. 
In 2016 the Cougars totaled 1014 sorties, flying 1478.5 mishap free hours, and completing 120 Growler Weapons and Tactics Program (GWTP) events becoming again the recipients of the Navy’s Aviation Battle Efficiency Award (Battle “E”), for Pacific Fleet embarked Electronic Attack Squadrons as well as the Association of Old Crows Outstanding Naval Unit Achievement Award.
The Cougars spent much of 2017 preparing for their upcoming deployment onboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) as part of CVW-17.  The Cougars successfully Carrier Qualified (CQ) all nine of its pilots onboard CVN 71 in January following a short Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) detachment in NAF El Centro, CA.  During April and May the Cougars spent five weeks underway participating in Tailored Ship’s Training Availability (TSTA) where Aircrew gained valuable experience operating both underway and integrating with the Air Wing.  This experience proved vital in enabling the Cougar’s success during four weeks of AIR WING Fallon in NAS Fallon during June.  In August the Cougars completed the capstone event of the Fleet Readiness Training Program (FRTP) cycle, COMPTUEX reaching full readiness for deployment.
In October of 2017 the Cougars embarked upon USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) to begin their deployment.  In November the Cougars participated in Three Carrier Strike Force Exercise in the Sea of Japan with USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) and USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) followed by stability and presence operations in the South China Sea.  By the end of November the Cougars entered the Fifth Fleet Area of Operations and began flying combat sorties in support of Operations INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR) and FREEDOM’s SENTINEL (OFS).  In total for 2017, the Cougars flew 2,280.1 hours and completed 84 GWTP events earning multiple awards including the 2017 Electronic Attack Maintenance Squadron of the Year Golden Wrench Award, FRTP work-up cycle CVW-17 Golden Wrench Award, and the 2017 Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award.
The Cougars began 2018 with continued support of OIR and OFS operating out of FIFTH Fleet aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT. After completing combat operations in March, the Cougars returned to SEVENTH Fleet to conduct stability and presence operations in the South China Sea. VAQ-139 completed deployment in THIRD Fleet and returned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in May.
Once home, VAQ-139 participated in three squadron detachments and two maintenance detachments to support the needs of the fleet. In July, the Cougars detached to Joint Base Elmendorf, AK to complete integration exercises with Air Force F-22 squadrons. In September, the squadron sent a maintenance detachment to Naval Air Station Fallon, NV in support of Growler Tactics Instructor Course (GTI). Later that month, the Cougars sent two aircraft and a maintenance detachment to Naval Air Station Pensacola for an awareness and outreach opportunity at a Fleet Fly-In event. The Cougars returned to NAS Fallon with a large maintenance footprint and two aircraft to support GTI in October. 
In 2018 the Cougars totaled 1,206 sorties, flying 2,604.5 mishap free hours, and completing 142 Growler Weapons and Tactics Program (GWTP) events becoming again the recipients of the Navy’s Aviation Battle Efficiency Award (Battle “E”), for Pacific Fleet embarked Electronic Attack Squadrons as well as the Association of Old Crows Outstanding Naval Unit Achievement Award.
VAQ-139 began 2019 with two separate but concurrent detachments.  One at Edwards Air Force Base, CA, in support of F-35 joint operational test goals.  The other was at Nellis AFB, NV, to support an Air Force Red Flag Exercise.  On April 2, VAQ-139 detached to NAS North Island, CA for a Carrier Qualification onboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT but was unable to complete due to ship maintenance issues.  On May 6, the cougars returned once more to Nellis AFB in support of a second F-35 integration detachment.  On June 25, VAQ-139 began pre-deployment workups in full, embarking on the USS NIMITZ for CQ.  A month later, on July 22, the Cougars detached to NAS Fallon for EWARP.  EWARP began in Whidbey, but was completed over eight weeks and finished at NAS Fallon, with the support of the Naval Air Warfare Development Center (NAWDC) and the Electronic Attack Weapons School, located at NAS Whidbey Island.  The Cougars closed out 2019 with Tailored Ship Training Assessment (TSTA), onboard USS NIMITZ. 

The Cougars then hit the ground running in 2020, embarking on USS NIMITZ for Group Sail on February 2.  The end of February found the Cougars back in NAS Fallon for a five week Air Wing Fallon syllabus with CVW-17.  On April 3, CDR Adam B. Green relieved CDR Michael J. Strauss as Commanding Officer of VAQ-139.  Less than two weeks later, the squadron was ordered into Pre-Movement Sequestration (PMS) for COVID mitigation.  The Cougars spent 18 days in PMS before embarking once more on USS NIMITZ for Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) on May 4.  After the completion of COMPTUEX, USS NIMITZ returned to NAS North Island for COMPTUEX and go.  On June 3, VAQ-139, USS NIMITZ, and the accompanying commands of Carrier Strike Group ELEVEN (CSG 11) and departed NAS North Island. Deployment for the Cougars began with a transit to SEVENTH Fleet, where they conducted flight operations in the vicinity of Guam and the South China Sea (SCS), participating in Dual Carrier Operations with USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76).  From the SCS, CSG-11 continued west, chopping into FIFTH Fleet on 24 July.  In the new area of responsibility, the Cougars participated in a variety of real world mission sets, including Deliberate Presence Patrol in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, and the Arabian Gulf.  VAQ-139 conducted Surface Combat Air Patrol over the Straits of Hormuz in support of Operation SENTINEL, and combat operations in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE.  For a quick reprieve, CSG-11 returned to SEVENTH Fleet to participate in Exercise MALABAR, an international exercise conducted with the Indian Navy, before returning to FIFTH Fleet to close out the year.  VAQ-139 finished 2020 with 1,642 completed sorties and a recording-breaking 3,114.6 flight hours.

At the turn of the New Year, the Cougars were tasked to support Special Operations Task Force units in the AFRICOM and CENTCOM Areas of Responsibility. The squadron conducted flights off the Horn of Africa before receiving orders that they were finally coming home. After 300 days away from home, numerous extensions, strict COVID-19 protocols, and a record-breaking OPTEMPO, all seven Growlers disembarked the USS NIMITZ and made a course for home at NAS Whidbey Island. Upon homecoming, the Cougars were afforded a much deserved respite. As the squadron returned to duty the Cougars spent the summer maintaining tactical proficiency in the sunny skies over the Pacific Northwest. The Cougars also sent small detachments to support joint training exercises to NAS Fallon, and conducted integration training with Air Force B1-B Lancers out of Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX.  The Cougars were scheduled to complete Deck Certification with USS NIMITZ at the end of the year, however due to equipment malfunctions aboard the ship the detachment was rescheduled to a later date. 

As 2022 began, so too did the Cougars’ workup cycle for their next deployment. VAQ-139 started the year with EWARP in NAS Whidbey Island and NAS Fallon. In April, the squadron supported Soldiers based out of Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) in Tacoma, WA for Exercise TUMBLEWEED.  On May 3rd, the Cougars detached two aircraft and four aircrew along with maintenance personnel to participate in an AGM-88 missile shoot off the coast of California, and the next day, VAQ-139 departed NAS Whidbey Island for TSTA onboard the USS NIMITZ.  Upon completing TSTA, the squadron took part in Group Sail with CSG-11. After returning to NAS Whidbey Island for a short break between workup periods, VAQ-139 detached seven aircraft for AIR WING Fallon to take part in numerous Large Force Exercises (LFE) with CVW-17 with the support of NAWDC. Upon returning to NAS Whidbey Island, the Cougars continued training at the unit level, conducting airborne electronic attack flights in the Pacific Northwest until August, when they began FCLP flights to prepare for COMPTUEX. At the end of September, the Cougars detached seven aircraft to NAS North Island to fly aboard the USS NIMITZ for COMPTUEX with the Carrier Strike Group.  Following COMPTUEX, VAQ-139 returned home for one last time before beginning their WESTPAC deployment on December 1st.
VAQ-139 commenced their WESTPAC deployment from NAS Whidbey Island, stopping at NAS North Island before embarking on the USS NIMITZ, joining the rest of CSG-11. Deployment began with multiple training exercises with the US Air Force near the islands of Hawaii, Wake Island, and Guam. Moving further west, the Cougars conducted flight operations in the Philippine, and South China Sea. Closing out 2022 the Cougars completed 1,337 sorties and 2039.4 flight hours.
The new year brought VAQ-139 continued operations in the South and East China Seas, coordinating with the USS MAKIN ISLAND for Expeditionary Strike Force operations. Together with USMC, USAF, ROK, and JMSDF assets, they flew joint long range simulated strikes and LFEs to project power and promote cooperation and security for the United States’ allies in the Pacific. In May, the Cougars were able to support US citizens directly, flying DSCA sorties over Guam to support relief efforts in the wake of Typhoon Mawar. 29 June was the final day of their deployment, and after taking time to rest and reunite with family, they returned to the NIMITZ for a three week Sustainment Exercise (SUSTEX). Shortly after, the squadron moved to NAS Fallon for an additional five weeks of Air Wing-level training against simulated advanced, “near peer” threats. Returning to NASWI in mid-October, the Cougars continued to maintain readiness at the squadron level, and participated in a number of aviation community events, including a flyover and ROTC briefs at Oklahoma University and Training Wing 6 Fleet Fly-In and NFO Symposium in NAS Pensacola. By the end of 2023 the Cougars completed 1,494 sorties for 2,481.5 flight hours.

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