Saturday, December 2, 2023


Launch to the Beach (I think I took this one)

Juvat's Monday re-post about him saving Thankgiving with an F-4 Phantom inspired me to dig through the recesses of my brain to see if I too had any worthy war stories to share.  While the venerable Viking was no fighter/attack jet, it was pretty much the Air Wing's station wagon, which could bring your friends and all their stuff wherever it you needed it to go.  Several times in my career I had either joined in, or watched my squadron-mates reaffirm it's value as an outstanding cross-country bird, by bringing four guys and their skis to Hill Air Force Base, some dive gear (minus tanks) to Guam, ice chests full of crab back from Maryland, or jambalaya from New Orleans. 

But the memory that is similar to Juvat's turkey run was the VS-29/CVW-11 Pizza-Gate incident back in 2003.

While my first tour was in Japan and we were pretty much always ready, not requiring lengthy carrier-qual sessions*, it was different for the squadrons like VS 29 in San Diego (and all the state-side Air Wings).  At the beginning of the workup cycle, nearly the entire Air Wing has been away from the boat for maybe a year or more.  Therefore, all the pilots and NFOs are out of qual and will require multiple day and night landings to either achieve initial qualification or a re-qual.  Once that's done, the carrier can actually start the cycle's training events, or depart for deployment.**

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in 2003                                            Source

So typically this was a three-day evolution to get all the pilots qualified, or maybe a day and a half or two if we were in the middle of the workup cycle.  The Viking was not a small airplane so they would often have us qualify last and/or fly back to the North Island for the night, with one or two birds away to keep the flight deck clear.  On the final day and night of CQ before actually departing for hotter and more sandy parts west, our Strike-Group's cruiser had some sort of engineering or comms casualty, so it had to pull back in for a day or so to be fixed.  Meanwhile, the Nimitz stayed out and waited, and our deployment counter was put on hold.  No chance of going back into port for us as we had already said goodbye to our families.  Also because while a fully loaded carrier pulling back into port might look good to the public, it would be embarrassing for the Navy, especially since the local news channels already reported our departure.    

However, the delay and our proximity to San Diego, combined with the Viking's useful cargo capability allowed a few of us a flight back to the beach to pick up some vital aircraft parts that a squadron or two had forgotten.  I didn't dare call my wife, as I knew she and the kids were already mentally prepared for me to be gone and interrupting that for a brief kiss and hug would be more of an interruption than anything else.  After we landed at North Island and waited on the cargo, we took the opportunity to order a dozen or so extra large pizzas from the pizza shop on base.  Our thought it would be a nice treat for the maintainers, our buddies in ready room would love us, and we'd earn some brownie points from the CO and XO.  We loaded up the pizzas just as the parts arrived and we took off for the short trip out to the carrier.

S-3B Ready for Takeoff - RWY 29 NASNI       Source: Viking Association

Source: Viking Association

Source:  Viking Association

We landed without incident and quickly handed off the parts to the CAGMO***  who was anxiously waiting outside our aircraft.  The last of the CQ flights were about to start so we rushed to unload the pizzas for transport down below.  CAGMO was still on deck however, so he saw what we were doing.  As we quickly walked across the flight deck with the pizzas, we got plenty of stares from envious and probably hungry flight deck personnel.  Once we got down below, we were generous with the cargo, giving each work center a pie, so we had one or two left over for the Ready Room.

Almost everyone was happy.  The maintainers got some much deserved food from the beach, the other pilots and NFOs slapped us on the back, and even our XO partook.  But as I said, almost everyone.  CAGMO must have reported our efforts to CAG, who was either jealous, hungry, or just in a bad mood as he called our CO to his office for not-a-little bit of ass-chewing.  

Apparently an Officer bringing a stack of pizzas from the bird to the catwalk "isn't a good look" and is "rubbing it in the faces of all those flight deck guys and gals."  Not an exact quote, because I wasn't in the room, but since this stuff rolls downhill and I was the senior man in that crew, I took the brunt of the CO's anger embarrassment, and that's what he said to me.  While the CO normally would have been pleased with our generosity, he had to relay the CAGs missive, and therefore we were first on the CAG's s#1t-list.

I laugh about it now, but I guess it's true that no good deed goes unpunished.  It's also true that there are those that will find offense in anything someone does, no matter how altruistic it is.  I remember someone from my childhood saying, "if you don't bring enough for everyone, don't bring any at all."  Free pizza is bad?  I guess so.  Never mind the fact that pretty much weekly the crew mess looked like the photos below.  Not a good start to the deployment, but privately our XO thanked us and told us not to worry about it.  We were heroes in the squadron, just nowhere else.  I think we got a little revenge at the first Foc'sul Follies though, which was fun, and well deserved.

And the good deed of bringing parts back?  Never even mentioned. One aww shucks ruins a hundred atta-boys.

As it was, our squadron was on CAG's _ _ _ _list for much of that deployment- some deserved, and some not.  This cruise we were the only tanker in the Air Wing.  Yes, the Super-Hornets could go up 3 or 5-Wet (2 or 4 tanks and a drogue refueling pod), but we were the primary tanker since those birds were needed for OIF strikes.  If a jet went down (broke- not crashed) as they are wont to dowe were under tremendous pressure to get it fixed fast and back on the flight schedule.  That happened several times over the next 8 months, as 25 year old aircraft are prone to it. 

Nevertheless, we survived the deployment, which was challenging, but successful for the most part, with plenty of green ink****, some amazing surveillance and intel collection from a few special systems we carried, and everybody came home.  For the parts that weren't?  We really didn't give a damn anyway because the Navy was disestablishing our squadron just a few months later.  The LTs all transitioned to other aircraft or communities, our CO and XO both made Captain, while I transferred to CENTCOM for Joint Duty.  And Tampa wasn't bad at all.

Anyway, I think I'm having Pizza for dinner tonight.  Anybody want to join me?  I'm buying.

*As a forward deployed Carrier Strike Group, the OPTEMPO is such that the team never goes out of qualification.  We were either at sea, just back, or preparing to go again.  In the 3 years in Japan, I had 2 years and 11 days of sea time.  Lots of flight time, but not a lot of family time.  We also didn't have the long transit from San Diego

** Carrier Landing Qualification:  4 day touch and goes, 10 day traps, 6 night traps.  If you were going back to the boat and your last trap was within 30 days, it would be less- something like 2 T&G, 2  Day, 2 Night.  This is all after weeks of Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLPs) with your squadron LSOs training and grading each pilot.

***CAGMO is the Air Wing Maintenance Officer. Often a gruff senior LDO- O-5 or O-6 at times.

**** Flight times during combat missions are recorded in our logbooks with green ink.


  1. Funny how food can overlay everything else for a short time, those parts....what parts? Photos really enhance an interesting story Tuna, thanks.

    1. True but back in 2003 I don't think our cell phones were known for their cameras! And from what I remember, the parts were either in a box or wrapped up in bubble wrap.

  2. Tuna,
    Great story! Thanks! Glad we didn’t have quite as many hurdles to jump on our trip.

  3. Yeah, but your sole mission was Turkey, sanctioned by leadership. Ours was parts and we added the pizza branch plan!

  4. For some reason, pizza sounds good for tonight!

  5. Crusty Old TV Tech here. I have an image of your CAGMO as Sr. Mary Elephant demanding "Did you bring enough for everyone, Tuna?". Kind of brings new meaning to "Delivery in 30 minutes, or your next one's free!". Taking care of the parts swappers, most excellent work.

    In my world, it was bringing Asbach Uralt, Henninger Alt, and/or German chocolate back from the FRG, or real Cohibas from East Berlin (via said FRG). Or leather goods, cheroots, and/or grappa from Aviano...see a trend here? Installation team chiefs always appreciated a fine smoke or two.

    1. One of the perks of a beach run is to bring stuff you can't get on the boat. And bringing something back for the team is nice, but not quite an obligation. On a cross country though, if the recovery crew has to stay late, you hook them up!

  6. During workups in 1986 we were off Jacksonville FL. We were making a logistics run with one of our helicopters back to NAS Jax. A group of us pooled our money together to order some pizzas. We flew back in and I called a friend who managed a local pizza shop. We got out parts and the pizzas. We loaded the pizzas into an insulated container and put it all into the helo. When we got back to the ship, the parts went where they were supposed to go while the container with the pizzas went to the line shack. The pizzas got distributed and we were there eating them when a Commander walks by the door, backs up and looks inside. One of the guys said "Help yourself Sir." and handed him a box. He grabbed a slice and asked "Where'd you get this?" "One of the guys said "Domino's delivers Sir." He about choked on his pizza.

    1. Ahh, we should have used a container!

    2. It helps. It it makes you feel better we did get into trouble for the charcoal grill on the catwalk.

  7. Sigh. Truly, no good deed does go unpunished.

  8. It's a shame the Mighty War Hoover never had a second chance, as the updated Hoover Mk II specs looked great.

    Excellent story. Am cooking pizza tonight. Coincidence? Or space aliens?...

    1. It's definitely space aliens. They're EVERYWHERE! Or maybe they're trans dimensional entities, it's getting harder to keep them all sorted out.

    2. Yeah, gone too soon. Sacrificial lamb in order to fund the Super Hornet. The DESRONs wanted to keep us around, but the Airboss trumps SURFOR.

  9. Great story, thanks for sharing Tuna. (And giving me another, undoubtedly undeserved, day off. 🙄)

  10. Undeserved? Not at all. Thanks and you're welcome.

  11. I worked on S-3B gear in the VAST shop on CV 67 and CV 59, but we didn't have any adventures involving pizza!
    --Tennessee Budd


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