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Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146 “Blue Diamonds”

Squadron History

The Blue Diamonds have a very proud tradition of being The Elite in the air and on the ground. Regardless of platform, or home base, one thing has never changed: Diamonds Take Care Of Diamonds.

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The air was filled with great expectations early in the morning of 1 February 1956 as CDR E. V. Davidson prepared to assume command of Attack Squadron 146, the Navy's newest jet attack squadron. In a ceremony held at NAS Miramar, VA 146 was commissioned at 0900 as a unit of Air Group 14. The squadron's original nickname was the Blacktails, which was derived from its assigned color as the sixth squadron of the air group.

Since there were no replacement squadrons at this time, VA 146 started with only a handful of aircraft and began an "in-house" training schedule for the F9F-8 Cougar in the squadron spaces. The squadron's first WESTPAC deployment began 21 January 1957 as CVG 14, embarked onboard USS HORNET (CVA 12) and departed from San Diego. Upon the squadron's return in July, the "Blacktails" began transitioning into the new J4-JB Fury.

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 In 1959, the squadron under CDR W. W. Alldredge adopted the Blue Diamonds nickname. On 12 May 1962, the squadron moved to its current home in California's San Joaquin Valley - Naval Air Station Lemoore. At that time they transitioned from F4-JBs to A-4D-2n (A4C) Skyhawk.

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The squadron found itself westward bound again embarked onboard USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) on 5 May 1964. Unknown when they departed, this cruise would mark the beginning of the Blue Diamonds' lengthy combat experience in Southeast Asia. The Diamond's next six deployments would center around combat operations in Vietnam. Two Blue Diamond Aviators lost their lives during combat over Vietnam, including the tenth Commanding Officer, CDR Herbert B. Loheed. CDR Loheed was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. In 1994, CDR Loheed's remains were positively identified, and he was declared KIA.

On 30 June 1967, LCDR John Michael McGrath was shot down in his A-4C and spent six years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton but returned home in 1973. Among other medals he was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest military honor, and retired as a Captain.

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n December 1968, VA 146 was completely re-equipped with the Navy's newest attack aircraft, the Vought A-7B Corsair II, and shortly thereafter, the A-7E.

On 5 January 1973, VA 146 headed west with Carrier Air Wing NINE (CVW 9) embarked again in USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64). This cruise would bring to an end the Navy's participation in the Vietnam War. For the deployment, CONSTELLATION and CVW 9 were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for the last Vietnam combat cruise.

The Blue Diamonds spent the majority of the Cold War deployed with CVW 9 and CONSTELLATION to the Western Pacific. During the 1980 deployment, the squadron spent 110 days at sea, the longest continuous at-sea period for any West Coast carrier since World War II.

On 25 April 1980, VA 146 was named the safest A-7 squadron in combined Navy-Air Force history by surpassing all previous records for accident-free flight operations at 36,175 hours.

A 14-year association with CVW 9 was broken in 1983 when VA 146 was reassigned to CVW 2. Upon their return from a WESTPAC in August 1984, the Diamonds were reassigned to CVW 9. CVW 9 and USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63) made two more deployments, which culminated in the 1987 World Cruise, which brought the carrier back to the East Coast for entry into the Service Life Extension Program.

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In September 1988, the Blue Diamonds and CVW 9 embarked onboard USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) for a Western Pacific deployment. The highlight of this cruise was operations in the Sea of Japan during the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. In the spring of 1989, VA 146 was re-designated VFA 146 and transitioned to the multi-role F/A-18C Night Strike Fighter. The Blue Diamonds were the first fleet squadron to receive this new version of the Hornet. VFA 146 made its first deployment with the Hornet on NIMITZ in 1991, arriving on station just after Operation DESERT STORM.

In 1994, the Blue Diamonds were presented a series of awards. Among these were the Scott F. Kirby Ordnance Proficiency Award, the Boola-Boola Award, the Captain Jack McAuley Award, and the Captain Michael Estocin Award. The Blue Diamond's outstanding performance culminated in their selection as the COMNAVAIRPAC Battle Efficiency Award winners for the previous year.

The Blue Diamonds next deployment in December 1995, with new airplanes and improved avionics, brought the squadron to both the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH as well as Yankee Station off the coast of Taiwan. In May of 1996, the Diamonds returned to Lemoore and began training for their next deployment while at the same time winning the Boola-Boola Award for the second time in three years.

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The Blue Diamonds spent the majority of 1997 preparing for a World Cruise onboard NIMITZ, and extended their 13-year history of over 55,000 hours without a Class "A" safety mishap.

The highlight of the work-up cycle was a 96-hour surge operation in which the Diamonds flew 226 sorties. On 4 September 1997, the Blue Diamonds departed San Diego with the NIMITZ Battle Group in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. The Battle Group surged to the Arabian Gulf and provided a stabilizing influence to the region at a time of heightened tensions. After four months of supporting Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, the crisis subsided allowing the Diamonds to return home on time. During the deployment, the Blue Diamonds earned the CVW 9 Top Hook Award for the 14th consecutive time and maintained a 99% sortie completion rate while participating in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.

Shortly after their return to Lemoore, the Blue Diamonds were named the 1997 COMNAVAIRPAC Battle "E" winner. The Diamonds were also awarded the Captain Michael J. Estocin, Rear Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky and the Scott F. Kirby Awards. These awards recognize the outstanding efforts of the entire squadron in 1997.

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In July 1998, the Diamond's handed over their Lot XVI Hornets for Lot XI aircraft. The arduous process began, getting these older Hornets ready for their upcoming cruise onboard USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74). Maintenance efforts were outstanding evident by twelve competent Hornets trapping on the deck of the STENNIS as it pulled out of San Diego on January 7, 2000 in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. The Millennium cruise was a great success. The Blue Diamonds' amassed over 1,900 sorties and 2,900 flight hours with a phenomenal sortie completion rate of 97%. Diamond Aviators flew 136 sorties over Iraq destroying several Iraqi targets as a result of precision ordnance delivery. The Diamonds captured the Top Hook award for all three line periods giving them an unprecedented twenty-one consecutive Top Hook awards, a record in Naval Aviation. The Blue Diamonds also received the CINCPAC Pearl Harbor Retention Excellence Award by surpassing all commands in retention rate.

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On November 12, 2001, the Blue Diamonds deployed with CVW-9 on the USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74), this time to conduct combat operations in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM over Afghanistan, deploying two months early in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. On December 12, 2001 the Blue Diamonds began their first night strikes into Afghanistan. Milestones included extending their Top Hook Award streak to 24 after the first line period. Weapons included the JDAM, Laser Guided Bombs, and Mk-82s. The Diamonds returned at the end of May 2002.

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VFA 146 began its 27th deployment onboard USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70) on 15 January 2003.   The Blue Diamonds and the CVW 9 team were not tasked with supporting Operation IRAQI FREEDOM but were attached to 7th Fleet in the Sea of Japan as a power projection asset.  It was the first “traditional” WESTPAC for the Blue Diamonds in several years.  The deployment lasted 8 months to the day, getting the Sailors home on 17 September 2003. 

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The Diamonds 28th deployment commenced onboard CARL VINSON on 17 January 2005.  The “around-the-world” deployment took them across the Pacific and Indian Oceans into the Persian Gulf.  For three months the Blue Diamonds, along with the rest of CVW 9 - to steam around the Sinai Peninsula into the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean Sea, then across the Atlantic.  On 31 July 2005 the CARL VINSON pulled into its new homeport of Norfolk, VA completing another successful deployment for the Blue Diamond team.

 On 18 January 2007 the Blue Diamonds deployed again onboard STENNIS.  For the next six months, the Diamonds flew combat missions in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM.  The squadron reached an incredible milestone of 22 consecutive years with no Class A mishaps, extending their outstanding safety record to more than 92,000 mishap-free flight hours.  Additionally, VFA 146 flew more than 400 combat sorties, encompassing over 2,500 flight hours during a highly dynamic deployment. Exceptional maintenance support led to the squadron’s extraordinary combat performance in achieving a weapons effectiveness rate of 95% while delivering more than 23,000 pounds of ordnance and over 5,000 rounds of 20mm in support of Coalition Forces.  The command’s attention to detail and tremendous pride were integral to daily operations, and resulted in the Blue Diamonds earning the CVW 9 “Golden Wrench Award” for maintenance excellence during the 2007 deployment.
On 17 January 2009 the Blue Diamonds embarked on the STENNIS for the beginning of their WESTPAC.  The Carrier Strike Group THREE and CVW 9 team helped reinforce foreign diplomacy and international relations by participating in Exercise Foal Eagle off the coast of Korea.  On their return home, the Blue Diamonds pulled into Hawaii before steaming north to participate in Northern Edge off the coast of Alaska with the United States Air Force.  On 6 July 2009 STENNIS pulled into San Diego marking the end of an era onboard STENNIS.  Before departing CVW 9, the Blue Diamonds earned the 2009 Bruce Carrier award for maintenance excellence.

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In April 2010 the Blue Diamonds transitioned to the CVW 14 team.  Again, the Blue Diamonds were awarded the 2010 Bruce Carrier maintenance award.  On 2 February 2011, the Blue Diamonds deployed onboard USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76).  During a seven month deployment, the Blue Diamonds participated in Operation TOMODACHI, providing over 336,000 pounds of vital supplies for over 34,000 displaced Japanese citizens during humanitarian relief efforts.  The Blue Diamonds then headed west, and flew 212 combat sorties in support of Operations NEW DAWN and ENDURING FREEDOM.  RONALD REAGAN and the Blue Diamonds returned home on 9 September 2011.

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In December 2011 VFA 146 joined the CVW 11 and NIMITZ team and began work-ups for their next deployment. In addition to the normal work-up cycle, the Blue Diamonds embarked onboard NIMITZ from June to August 2012 while participating in the 2012 Rim of the Pacific international exercise, completed an additional Airwing Fallon SUSTEX in January 2013, and a SUSTEX onboard NIMITZ in April 2013 prior to deploying.

VFA 146 and CVW 11 deployed onboard NIMITZ in April 2013. While deployed, the Blue Diamonds conducted operations in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Fleet AORs. They flew combat missions in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and extended on station in response to the Syrian Crisis. Additionally, the Diamonds participated in multinational exercises with South Korea, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The Blue Diamonds returned home from deployment in December 2013, and were subsequently awarded the 2013 Chief of Naval Operations Battle "E" and CAPT Michael J. Estocin Award for exceptional operational performance as well as the Aviation Safety Award.

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Since returning from deployment VFA 146 underwent an extensive maintenance phase to transfer 14 Lot 10 F/A-18C Hornets to other squadrons and Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). From December 2014 to May 2015 the Blue Diamonds transitioned from Lot 10 Hornets to Lot 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets. On 26 May 2015 the Blue Diamonds achieved their Safe-for-Flight in the Super Hornet. In October 2015 the Blue Diamonds tested some of the new systems and capabilities of the ‚ /Super Hornet executing live missile shoots with CVW 11 during a detachment to Tyndall Air Force Base.

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In early 2016, the squadron spent a week onboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) for carrier qualification and later a week onboard CARL VINSON for Flight-Deck Certification. Regaining carrier proficiency after a long period ashore. In September 2016, the Blue Diamonds started work ups for a 2017 deployment with CVW 11. In June 2016, VFA 146 and CVW 11 deployed onboard NIMITZ and supported operations in the Fifth and Seventh Fleet AORs. Over the course of the six month deployment, the Blue Diamonds participated in multinational exercises with India, South Korea, and Japan and flew 1,132 hours in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE over Iraq and Syria. Additionally, VFA 146 successfully employed over 92,000 pounds of ordnance. On 6 December 2017 the Blue Diamonds returned from deployment. In January 2018, the Blue Diamonds transitioned to newer Lot 26 F/A-18 Super Hornets equipped with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars. The added capabilities of the AESA radar increased the combat lethality of the squadron.

Throughout 2018, the Blue Diamonds maintained tactical proficiency despite a very challenging maintenance period. Despite reduced flight hours, VFA 146 participated in various detachments and maintained carrier proficiency during a carrier qualification detachment onboard STENNIS in June 2018. In the summer of 2018, VFA 146 and CVW 11 bid farewell to CSG 11 and started a new era with CSG 9 onboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT. In November 2018, VFA 146 and CVW 11 began workups for a scheduled 2020 deployment. In addition to the normal Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) detachments, VFA 146 and CVW 11 participated in the NORTHERN EDGE exercise onboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT off of the coast of Alaska in late spring 2019; working to strengthen coalition interoperability with the U.S. Air Force. The Blue Diamonds continue to be forged into an elite combat team - lethal and ready to defend our nation's interests abroad...keeping the away game, away. Fly Navy!

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