[This email comes from the fleet and is circulating widely throughout the Prowler community, particularly among junior officers. It describes problems in the EA-6B community. It describes why readiness problems in the fleet are a self-inflicted wound that is hurting the talent and commitment of junior officers]
Subject: THE Q-BALL THAT ROARED
FPO AP 96601-4403
25 February 1998
To: VADM John J. Mazach
Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Atlantic Fleet
I am writing in response to your article published in the Winter 97
issue of THE HOOK. I would first like to thank you for addressing us
through The Tailhook Organization. Tailhook continues to be the forum
Junior Officers are most associated with and your support, I hope, will
continue to reverse the damage done during the early 90’s.
Please allow me a short paragraph to introduce myself. I am a YG 89
Prowler Pilot winged in May of 1990. After graduation from the RAG in
October of 1991, I was detailed to VAQ-140 which had just left on cruise
that month. After coming home from that cruise, CVW-7 was transferred to
GW. After Shakedown and a year long workup on George, we cruised in May
of 1994. That cruise brought two more trips through the Suez and a fair
bit of B-H ops. I got home from that cruise at Thanksgiving and was
ordered back out after refresher CQ the second week in January.
Translanting two aircraft, we landed at Aviano and were incorporated
into our new squadron, VAQ-130. After spending the next three months
watching our boat sail off to yet another port call while we worked 69
days straight, I looked forward to going to the RAG. After just less
than two years of RAG duty, I was detailed to CAG-5 as Airwing Paddles
in July of 1997. I just passed 2000 hours and got my 431st trap on a
good deal day hop two days ago.
Your article struck home because I used those same comments when I sat
down to figure out whether I should take the bonus in the Fall of 1995.
I have never been in this job for the money, I do not think anyone does
it for that reason. My decision to stay was based solely on the reasons
you stated so well in your argument. Friends, Service, the advice of the
greatest LSO of this generation, Sterling Gilliam, all played a part.
The clincher though boiled down to one thing, the shear fun of flying.
Things have changed in the Prowler community.
Two years ago, while I was making my decision, I was still flying an
aircraft that I felt had a future. We had a full up aircraft. We had a
robust Defensive Tactics program. We had plenty of jets to fly. We had a
robust Low Level Awareness and Tactics program. We had 5.5 'G'
airframes. There was talk of lowering the 'G' limit in order to preserve
FLE but after talking to VAQWINGPAC himself, he assured me that there
was no way he would allow that to happen. How things change.
In the last two years we in the Prowler Community have had a progressive
reduction in Training that has adversely affected Combat Efficiency and
everyday morale. You will not see a loss of Combat Efficiency due to the
Navy's ability to cover its tracks.
The Wing is currently involved with the rewrite of the T and R matrix
in order to make us look like we are trained. We are not. What ever
happened to "Train Like You Fight?"
I have heard all the reasons and frankly, none hold water. "We will
never go low." Why does every other community practice low levels? The
answer is we train to it because we may still need to. Never say never
in our business. We in the Prowler community have taken Low Levels very
seriously. We had been flying Low levels at 200 ft for 25 years when
NAVAIR bumped us up to 500 ft. 25 years without a MISHAP. Best damn Low
Level record in Naval Aviation. The Marines loose one because of
supervisory stupidity letting that kid with no experience go through
LAT, and we pay the price.
"You will never be able to defeat a Fourth Generation Fighter and you do
not need to because you will always have a CAP. You don't need DEFTAC."
Speaking from experience as a guy that has been targeted and declared in
a combat environment without a CAP, I still need to know how to maneuver
against missiles and to hold off the non-Fourth generation aircraft that
compromise the vast majority of Combat aircraft around the world.
I told the former VAQWINGPAC, while a RAG Instructor, that if we lowered
the 'G' we were going to loose a jet. I was but one of the voices.
Behold, it took less than a year and we started to crash jets. I helped
train both those pilots that are now dead. I feel like a double failure.
Having lost the battle to convince the higher-ups to leave us alone and
let us train and loosing the battle to teach those two youngsters how to
keep themselves alive. The accidents did not catch us operators off
guard. We knew it was coming and we said so on many occasions. No one up
the chain listened, but they were "shocked" when it happened.
VAQWINGPAC promises us that these programs will be back when the jet
situation improves. How is the jet situation going to improve? When
Squadrons get back off cruise they are stripped of their assets, usually
keeping one. One jet for pilots to maintain proficiency! One jet without
parts I might add. There just are not any more jets out there. They are
all in bags down in Florida awaiting new wings and SDLM. I am flying a
jet in VAQ-136 that just failed its fifth ASPA. It passed its
reinspection by the way. How can you pass a reinspection on the fifth
ASPA? I flew a Tomcat that just got out of its Seventh ASPA so the
problem is not limited to the Prowler community. "AIRPAC is pushing us
to lower our flight time by use of trainers so this helps the effort."
What effort is that? Increase in resignation letters?
The jet situation will not improve without an effort by the Navy to help
it out. For the last three years the Navy has budgeted exact zero
dollars for the Prowler. (That's 0, zero, nada.) Any dollars we have
gotten has been from Congressional plus -ups.
The 500 million we got from the Air Force for taking on their commitments
went to the F/A-18 E and F. [note: this comment probably referrs to the
retirement of the AF EF-111 tactical jammer and the decision to have Navy
EA-6Bs take on AF jamming commitments--if true, it is a typical example
of how procurement takes precedence of over readiness despite official
rhetoric that readiness is top prority.]
That money was supposed to go to our bank to cure some of our
problems. I am nursing around aircraft that have dwindling wing life
(I've flown one with 121% FLE) and the best NAVAIR can do is buy five
wings a year. We burn more up a year than that. Well, we use to burn
more up when we could still fly the jets tactically. Now, we fly a
I have yet to get a straight answer out of any person in my COC
concerning the future of this platform. "This too shall pass. "We got
ours and you guys are going to have to suck it up." These are common
themes. Frankly, I feel betrayed by my leadership. This jet is no longer
fun to fly. The Navy Leadership has made my passion into a job and I
will never forgive them for it.
I live in the Atsugi BOQ because it is just too hard to try and pay the
bills in the cash only society that Japan is. Some Aviators, who live
out in town, had to empty their bank accounts and borrow money for their
first mess bill in order to pay their bills up front for a four month
cruise. Why do they chose to do that?
The Atsugi BOQ has the same rules as the Atsugi BEQ. No guests past
2200. If an E-3, married, wants to have a guest overnight, he is not
even questioned. I, a 32 year old single LT, have less privileges than
him due to my marriage status. That sir, is not right. Why can't we get
this reversed? Believe me sir when I tell you we have tried. It boils
down to "shut up and sit down." Our Navy at work for its people.
The Landing Signal Officer Cross Train Program remains unfunded. We can
not keep good Paddles in the Navy long enough to take over CAG LSO slots
and this program remains unfunded for all but potential CAG LSOs. This
program helps safety of operations immeasurably yet no one gives a damn.
This is not an expensive program. I had to actually threaten to drop my
paddles when they were detailing me to Japan before I was given orders
to the Tomcat RAG for cross training. Even then I was given my BOQ room
and nine dollars a day with no rental car. Thanks. I practically paid
for the Program myself. It should not be that hard. Flying that jet for
27 glorious hours has made me a much better LSO. I will get this program
back for CVW-5 Squadron LSOs if I have to use CAG TAD funds in order to
do it. None of my Team Leaders have been through the Program and it will
do more for morale, retention and safety than any ORM lecture the Navy
has to offer.
The LSO School continues to excel at training new Paddles and it is a
testament to their work and the work of the CAG Paddles that our Landing
Mishap rates have reached an all time low. Now, we just have to figure
out a way to retain LSOs. We are down to two in each Airwing including
mine that is required to have three by the LSO NATOPS. With our
schedule, I am not looking at getting any leave until I get back to the
States. Our other Paddles is married and I will not take leave until he
has had his family time. I have seen too many divorces over the years to
let that happen to another one of my friends.
At year fourteen I take a 12 thousand dollar a year pay cut. My bonus is
my retirement. If I stay till 20, I will only get 40% before taxes of my
last year's base pay. That is not the retirement package you have. I
hope the 401k goes through for us because that is a big sticking point
for the younger guys with families.
Leave. Don't get me started. What good is 30 days a year if you cannot
use it? If I do not get a chance to use it, why does it go away? Why
can't I get reimbursed for it? I do not know if you have seen the
schedule for CAG-5 but let me tell you it is brutal. Not only do we
average 185 days a year at sea, but throw into that an average of 30
days a year at Iwo Jima (you should only have to go there once in a
lifetime) plus the dets we have to go on, and there is not a lot of time
for leave. The ridiculous amount of paper required in the 90's Navy
still has to be pushed.
With the increasing amount of paper that we push, why doesn't BUPERS and
all the other organizations, scrub their programs for currency every
year. Relieve some of the pressure. The computer has simply allowed me
to do three times as much paperwork in twice the time. I would just like
to see one "high profile" report done away with because it does not help
us do our mission. Dental Readiness jumps to mind. The Navy does not
provide enough Dentists so readiness suffers. Questions? Yet we have it
as a CNO Special Interest Program that some poor JO spends way too much
time with, requiring the XO to spend way too much time on it and so on
and so on. Get rid of it.
One Aviator to another, I think, given the aforementioned reasons and a
host of others, I may have made the biggest mistake of my life taking
the bonus. Don't get me wrong, being a CAG Paddles has been the most
demanding and at the same time most gratifying tour I could have asked
for. I love this more than you'll ever know. I would not have been able
to forgive myself if I had turned this tour down for personal reasons
and someone hit the ramp because I was not there to keep them off it.
I'm a damn good Paddles sir and I've had no landing mishaps on my watch
(fourth cruise) to prove it. The best Skipper I ever had was a man by
the name of T.C. Bennett. He told me on numerous occasions that if "you
are not having fun, you aren't doing it right." I have been trying my
damndest to do it right, but bottom line, I'm getting worked to death
and flying a jet that is no longer fun to fly.
Well sir, I've bent your ear enough. Thank you again for addressing us
through Tailhook. I have been a proud member since the day after I
landed on the LEX. With your help, we can shake the doldrums that have
clouded the Organization for too long. I would be glad, if you have any
questions, to talk at length about any of these or other subjects on the
Tee Box at Whispering Pines or Torrie Pines, which ever coast you happen
to be on. Hope to see you at Tailhook in Reno.