Friday, August 1, 2014


Lemoore, July 2013
I like this bird, it has my initials on it.
On board an aircraft carrier the person who commands the air wing is known as the CAG, which is, of course, an acronym...
The first Carrier Air Groups (as they were then called) were activated in 1937. Initially, the commander of the air group (known as the "CAG") was the most senior commanding officer of the embarked squadrons and was expected to personally lead all major strike operations, coordinating the attacks of the carrier's fighter, bomber, and torpedo planes in combat. The CAG was a department head of the ship reporting to the carrier's commanding officer.


A carrier air wing has a small command staff consisting of 16-20 officers and approximately 20 enlisted personnel. It is headed by the "CAG" (Commander, Air Group—a legacy term from the earlier term for the Air Wing) who is a Navy Captain or a Marine Corps Colonel with an aeronautical designation as a Naval Aviator or Naval Flight Officer. Although eligible, Marine assignments to "CAG" or "DCAG" (Deputy Commander) positions are typically limited to one Carrier Air Wing.

Second in command is the Deputy Commander (DCAG), also a Navy Captain or Marine Colonel aviator or NFO, who "fleets up" to the CAG position after about 18 months. Also on the staff are an Operations Officer (typically a Commander or Lieutenant Commander), a number of warfare specialists (typically Lieutenant Commanders or Lieutenants), two Wing Landing Signal Officers, an Intelligence Officer, and a Maintenance Officer. The air wing staff is often supplemented with squadron personnel, such as the squadron intelligence officers. The CAG reports to a Rear Admiral in the position of Commander, Carrier Strike Group and is coequal in stature with the Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier as well as the embarked Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) Commander and the attached guided missile cruiser commanding officer. The CAG serves as the Strike Group's Strike Warfare Commander, responsible for all offensive strike operations (including Tomahawk Missiles). CAGs are typically qualified to fly at least two types of aircraft in the Carrier Air Wing inventory.

The air wing composition is designed to allow for broad striking power hundreds of miles from the carrier's position, while providing defense in depth of the battle group through early warning and detection of airborne, surface and subsurface targets. The modern U.S. Navy carrier air wing consists of:

  • Four Strike Fighter (VFA) Squadrons with 12-14 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets; or 10-12 F/A-18C Hornets. The typical mix is one F/A-18F (two seat) Super Hornet squadron and a mix of three single seat F/A-18E Super Hornet and/or F/A-18C Hornet squadrons. In three air wings one of the F/A-18C Hornet squadrons is a U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack (VMFA) Squadron.
  • One Electronic Attack (VAQ) Squadron of 4 EA-6B Prowlers or 5 EA-18G Growlers; The EA-6B will eventually be replaced by the EA-18G in all air wings.
  • One Carrier Airborne Early Warning (VAW) Squadron of 4 E-2C Hawkeyes;
  • One Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) Squadron of 10 MH-60S Seahawks (2 - 4 of which are typically based in detachments on other strike group ships)
  • One Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) Squadron of 11 MH-60R Seahawks (3 - 5 of which are typically based in detachments on other strike group ships).
  • A detachment from a Fleet Logistics Support (VRC) Squadron Detachment of 2 C-2 Greyhounds. Wikipedia
As you might imagine, the CAG is an august personage and has a certain gravitas which other aviators and NFOs all aspire to (when they grow up). That is, being a CAG is a "Pretty Big Deal."

Uh, that's all well and good Sarge, but what's that got to do with "the price of tea in China"? (As the older generation used to say when I was but a boy.)

Well, that's a good question, I'm glad you asked. (Stop looking at each other like that. You know you wanted to ask...)

The other day I was going through some of my pictures and came across the one you see up top. As I was wondering why I hadn't used this picture of an F/A-18C in "airplane on a stick" mode before, it struck me that this bird was painted up to be the Kestrel's "CAG Bird," old "double nuts" as she is sometimes known (note the double-zeroes painted on the nose, c'mon, think about it... Yup, you got it).


While the picture is really nice but it's really just another photo from the 2013 pilgrimage to Lemoore, I needed a story to go with it. It was then that I noticed that high upon each vertical stabilizer they had painted my initials. CAG.

And therein lies the story...

Long ago, near the end of the last glaciation period, roughly 90 days after I had retired from the Air Force and roughly 6 days after beginning my new career as a civilian, I went forth to register my automotive transport at the nearest military facility. For I knew that I would have many occasions to drive onto said military installation in pursuit of tax-free goods and to use the commissary, for to feed my family of one wife, one in-college son, two teenage daughters and a cat.

Not to mention the not insubstantial amounts of feed necessary to keep Your's Truly in fighting trim.

Now back in those days, one needed a "DoD Sticker" on one's vehicular conveyance in order for that vehicle to be operated upon a military establishment. I have heard that this requirement is/has going/gone away, but that is neither here nor there and strictly speaking not related to the tale at hand. Just thought I'd mention it.


As Juvat might put it, "There I was..." at the Pass and Registration Office at Naval Station Newport, documentation in hand, ready to get a sticker for my car. When it was my turn, the following conversation took place between myself and the Petty Officer 2nd Class behind the counter.

PO2: I'm surprised they made you come down here to get your own sticker.

(I was wondering if he was referring to the fact that I was retired or that I had attained that most lofty station of Master Sergeant, pay grade E-7.)

Me: Well, I'm no different than anybody else, put my pants on one leg at a time. Nothing special really.

PO2: Still, you used to be important, right?

(Used to be? As I pondered this fall from grace, the Petty Officer, pulling out the various elements of the DoD sticker, put the following on the counter...

That would be the sticker denoting an officer in the pay grade of O-7, Brigadier General or (nautically speaking) Rear Admiral, Lower Half, not something that is normally seen on a "lowly" E-7's vehicle.)

Me: Say Petty Officer, you understand that I'm a retired E-7, right?

PO2: (Checking my ID card again...) And so you are!

(Both of us begin laughing. The Missus Herself is now convinced that everyone in uniform is a complete loon.)

Upon relaying this story to the progeny, The WSO (though not a WSO at the time) said, "Gee Dad, you should have taken the sticker, then gotten personalized license plates with your initials on them! That would be hysterical!"

When The Missus Herself looked puzzled as to what my initials had to do with all this, I explained to her about the "Commander Air Group" or "CAG" and seeing as how those were also my initials, folks would see the Rear Admiral sticker, then the personalized plates and folks would think I was a retired aviator! Cool huh?

Looking deep into my eyes, the love of my life said to me...

"You're an idiot."

So while those are my initials on that bird in the opening photo, they're not my initials. If you catch my drift.

With apologies to "real" CAGs everywhere...
My initials really are C.A.G., not OAFS. Heh...


  1. Another great blog. Thoroughly enjoyed it! Even though I've never got to meet your 'better-half', from the bits and pieces I've picked up from your many narratives, I really like her. She sounds pretty awesome!

    As far as everyone in uniform being a complete loon, hmmm..., I'll have to say that I wear my 'loonyism' proudly! ;-)

    1. Thanks Russ.

      I have always been a proud loon!

  2. Speaking as a former lowly E-5, I have to admit that PO2s are quite capable ... and quite capable of messing up without a CPO (or E-7 AF type, for that matter) to keep everyone pulling in the same direction. We knew how, we just didn't always know when, if you get my drift. :)

    1. Once upon a time I was an E-5 (Staff Sergeant) and very proud of myself I was. So I know of which you speak Rev!

  3. Watching the CAG go over the fence, inbound, one presumes, in a daylight landing in a comfortable familiar fighter at the new home of TOPGUN.

    I opted out of the closed group, but yes, it is easy to see now how the limits at Fallon could so easily kill an excellent man. Sometimes the margins are razor thin and never more so in those involving carrier aviation.

    Your story brought back memories of all the times the base police scraped my sticker when I had parked in a perfectly legal spot at 32nd street only to return a day or two later to find that the area had been "taped off," or some joker had put up a ship sign on the part of the quay wall I had left my legally, at the time, car parked. Every time I'd go to pass and ID there'd be a broken down old shipmate who commiserated about the intractable idiocy of the guys shopped to the force TAD from ships on the waterfront and he'd issue me a new sticker and a thank me for dropping by on my way out to get it put on my car.
    Still, doesn't quite make up for the 5th time I tried to enter Norfolk NOB with the sticker on the first car I'd bought from the Air Force LCOL who lived next door. I had a hell of a time, as an army brat, of accepting the notion that the navy really was silly enough to put pass and ID off the base. I kept thinking the gate guards were telling me to just proceed down the road to the next gate. When they held me at gunpoint back in '83, I decided that perhaps the navy, air force and army were not synonymous terms for getting onto a military installation.
    I still laugh at the memory of our GMGSN who was met at McChord by a limo sent by people who thought that something like that was pretty damned important. All of us, enroute to Adak, just played along.

    1. The three services still have very different customs for letting the authorized folk onto their installation.

      I do not give my old service very high marks in that regard. They were a lot of annoying pricks back in the day. As I haven't been on an Air Force installation in some time, perhaps that has changed.

    2. "...perhaps that has changed."
      Not on your life! The only thing more dangerous than a 19 year old with a gun, is a 19 year old with a gun, a badge and, in my day, a beanie.

    3. Make that an arrogant 19 year old (because of the gun, badge and beanie) and I think we have a consensus!

  4. Heh, yeah that WOULD have been interesting on a Navy base... Funny story too!

    1. As I did not wish to appear to be a poser, I let it go.

      Would have been fun though. Until I met a real O-7 that is.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.