The DIAMONDBACKS are proud to celebrate 61 years defending America’s freedom from the skies. They continue their proud tradition, supporting America’s pivot to Asia as a member of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces, executing the squadron’s 42nd deployment under their 51st and 52nd commanding officers while operating from their 11th and 12th aircraft carriers. The DIAMONDBACKS began the year in NAF Atsugi, Japan, executed a two month trans-Pacific SFARP detachment and then embarked aboard USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) with Carrier Air Wing FIVE (CVW 5). During the fall patrol, The DIAMONDBACKS will bid farewell to outgoing skipper, CDR Rafe “Bloach” Wysham, as he hands over command to CDR Gregory “Drano” Malandrino. These impressive milestones mark the latest chapter in the storied history of America’s naval forces abroad and the DIAMONDBACKS.
Established in 1955 as VF-102 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, the DIAMONDBACKS began initial training in gunnery, bombing, nuclear weapons delivery and high altitude intercepts in the F2H-4 Banshee. VF-102 then departed on their inaugural cruise aboard USS RANDOLPH (CV 15), where each pilot achieved an impressive 200 arrested landings. After only one cruise in the Banshee, the DIAMONDBACKS transitioned to the F4D-1 Skyray and completed a Mediterranean cruise aboard USS FORRESTAL (CV 59). At the close of the 1950s, VF-102 left Cecil Field and moved to NAS Oceana, Virginia and began work-ups for their next deployment.
The 1960s opened with the DIAMONDBACK’S third and fourth Mediterranean cruises aboard USS FORRESTAL (CV 59) and in 1961 transitioned to the F-4A Phantom II, the era’s premier fighter. Following the transition, VF-102 completed an additional five Mediterranean cruises aboard both the USS AMERICA (CV 66) and USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), eventually upgrading to the F-4J Phantom II in 1967. The DIAMONDBACKS actively participated in the 1961 Cuban blockade, a 1964 circumnavigation tour showcasing America’s nuclear navy and a second around-the-world tour in 1968 to conduct combat operations from Yankee Station during the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, the DIAMONDBACKS strengthened international alliances, conducting NATO operations with British, French and Italian counterparts as well as executing two cross-deck periods aboard HMS ARK ROYAL. Additionally, VF-102 performed their 14th and 15th Mediterranean cruises, professionally conducting air operations in the eastern Mediterranean during the Yom Kippur War, earning Carrier Air Wing SEVEN’s squadron of the year award. Finally, during the late 1970s, VF-102 moved to Carrier Air Wing SIX aboard the USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62).
In 1980, VF-102 performed its final F-4J Phantom II patrol, operating from Gonzo Station during the Iranian hostage crisis and standing watch in the eastern Mediterranean during the Syrian-Israeli missile crisis. Once the DIAMONDBACKS returned to Oceana, they began their transition to the mighty F-14 Tomcat, the aircraft they would fly until 2002. This time marked the longest period in squadron history flying the same model aircraft. Armed with their new Tomcats, VF-102 deployed to the Gulf of Sidra aboard USS AMERICA (CV 66) to participate in Operation EL DORADO. They escorted F-111 bombers across Libyan dictator Omar Kaddafi’s “Line of Death,” ensuring none were lost to enemy air action. Additionally, in 1989, while again deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, aircraft from VF-102 provided air superiority during the Beirut embassy evacuation. This would be the first of many future deployments centered on the Middle East area of responsibility.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Navy accelerated the DIAMONDBACKS through work-ups in order to join the build-up for Operation DESERT SHIELD. Only two days after entering the Red Sea, VF-102 started flying combat sorties against Iraq as part of Operation DESERT STORM, logging over 1,400 combat hours and executing all mission sets including SCUD and HVU CAPS as well as strike escort. The DIAMONDBACKS continued to fly missions from both the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea until they returned home in April, 1991. In 1993, VF-102 once again found themselves in the middle of the world stage as they enforced the no-fly zone and conducted strikes in support of UN troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Shortly thereafter, they transited the Suez Canal and participated in Operation RESTORE HOPE off the coast of Mogadishu, Somalia and Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in the Persian Gulf. Upon returning home, VF-102 upgraded to the F-14B, which included the more powerful GE F-110 engines. In 1995, the DIAMONDBACKS became the first Tomcat squadron to participate in the air-to-surface portion of SFARP as well as the Navy’s inaugural Forward Air Controller (Airborne) course, greatly expanding the F-14’s mission set repertoire. After extensive air-to-surface training emphasizing organic laser-guided weapon employment with the F-14’s LANTIRN pod, VF-102 flew numerous combat sorties in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and DELIBERATE FORCE from 1995-1999. During this time, the DIAMONDBACKS unquestionably established the Tomcat as a proven strike aircraft and FAC(A) platform.
The DIAMONDBACKS began the new millennium with upgrades to both their hardware and personnel. VF-102 Tomcats received digital flight control systems and the DIAMONDBACKS ready room received it’s first female aircrew, placing the squadron at the forefront of naval fighter aviation. During the first half of 2001, VF-102 underwent workups in preparation for a regularly scheduled deployment. Following the events of September 11, 2001, VF-102, recently embarked with Carrier Air Wing ONE aboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71), immediately shifted course to head for the Gulf of Oman. The DIAMONDBACKS participated in the opening phases of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, successfully executing both strike and FAC(A) missions, employing thousands of pounds of both conventional and precision-guided munitions. Their FAC(A) training proved pivotal on September 17th, 2001 when a section of DIAMONDBACKS tactical call-sign “Willis,” provided cover for a special operations team escorting future president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, in the vicinity of Tarin Kowt. Taking over the battlefield, the DIAMONDBACK aircrew executed more than 30 controls over the course of four hours, eventually bringing in six other sections of strikers to defeat the numerically superior Taliban forces. As a result of their efforts, both the pilot and Radar Intercept Officer were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the completion of this deployment, the DIAMONDBACKS had flown 3,346 combat hours, dropped 645 conventional and guided munitions and had been at sea for 153 consecutive days.
Upon returning home, the DIAMONDBACKS began the transition to their current platform, the FA-18F Super Hornet. Over the next two years, the DIAMONDBACKS, newly re-designated as VFA-102, moved from NAS Oceana to NAS Lemoore, participated in work-ups at NAF Key West and NAS Fallon and successfully trained twenty-two nugget aircrew in the latest strike fighter tactics. Armed with the FA-18F’s potent new sensor capabilities and digital architecture, the DIAMONDBACKS were now able to employ almost every weapon in the U.S. Navy’s inventory. In November 2003, VFA-102 set out on a trans-Pacific flight and executed a change in homeport to NAF Atsugi, becoming the first forward deployed Super Hornet squadron.
Over the last 13 years, VFA-102, as part of Carrier Air Wing FIVE and Task Force SEVEN ZERO, has been a persistent presence in the western Pacific. Initially deploying aboard USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63), VFA-102 routinely executes annual six-to-eight month deployments focusing on joint and multi-national exercises, such as KEEN SWORD, TALISMAN SABRE and VALIANT SHIELD, as well as participating in numerous humanitarian relief efforts around the Pacific. Notably, in 2013 aboard USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73), VFA-102 along with other assets from CTF-70 provided humanitarian aid and disaster relief as a part of Operation DAMIYAN following hurricane Haiyan in the Republic of the Philippines.
While the homeport, aircraft and personnel of the DIAMONDBACKS have continually changed over the years, their mission has not. We, the men and women of VFA-102, will continue to train and are standing ready to bring the full combat power of the Rhino to bear and enhance stability in the Pacific through strength, cooperation and presence. Please join us in celebrating our storied past.