As a front line strike fighter unit, the Blue Blasters directly participated in World War II, the Cuban Crisis, the Vietnam Conflict, and Desert Shield. The squadron has flown eight different aircraft types from the decks of 24 carriers while compiling an enviable list of "firsts".
Beginnings - World War II
The squadron was originally commissioned the VF-20 "Jokers" on 15 October 1943 as part of Air Group TWENTY stationed at NAS San Diego, California. The squadron was composed of numerous newly winged Naval Aviators along with a few combat hardened pilots. Among those veterans who later joined the command was Lieutenant Al Vraciu, credited with downing six Japanese Zeros during the famous Marianas Turkey Shoot.
Flying F6F Hellcats from the deck of USS ENTERPRISE, VF-20 was heavily involved in the initial invasion operations in the Philippines, including the epic battle of Leyte Gulf. As part of Admiral Halsey's Northern Strike Group, VF-20 assisted in sinking one of the world's largest battleships, the IJNS MUSASHI (sister ship to the IJNS YAMATO), and was given credit for partial kills on several Japanese cruisers and destroyers. LCDR Fred Bakutis, the first Commanding Officer of VF-20, was shot down during this attack and survived a week adrift at sea. He was awarded the Navy Cross.
After the deployment, VF-20 cross-decked to the "Grey Ghost", the USS LEXINGTON (CV 16). From her decks, "The Jokers" struck various targets from Taiwan to the Japanese mainland.
During WWII, eight VF-20 pilots became aces, 12 pilots received the Navy Cross and 22 received the Silver Star. VF-20 was credited with the destruction of over 15 ships and 407 aircraft, not counting the even greater number that were damaged but not destroyed. For their combat efforts the command was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in 1944 and 1945, along with the Navy Unit Citation while aboard the Big "E". Names of VF-20 personnel are enshrined along with other members of Air Group TWENTY in the USS LEXINGTON Memorial in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Shortly after the surrender of Japan, the squadron transitioned to the F8F Bearcat and was redesignated VF-9A. Redesignated in the summer of 1948 as VF-91 and then VF-34 in 1950 as the squadron transitioned to its first jet aircraft, the F9F Panther.
One year later, the squadron began initial training in the F2H Banshee. After returning from a cruise aboard USS LEYTE (CV 32), the unit transferred to NAS Cecil Field, Florida. The majority of the next two years were spent operating from the attack carriers USS HORNET (CVA 12), USS MIDWAY (CV 41), USS BENNINGTON (CVA 20), USS TARAWA (CV 40) and USS RANDOLPH (CVA 15). Upon returning to NAS Cecil Field, Florida in 1955, the squadron was again redesignated as VA-34.
In spring of 1956, it accepted its first F7U Cutlass, which it operated until receiving A-4D Skyhawks in March 1957. The squadron became the first Skyhawk squadron to deploy to the Mediterranean. It was during this period that the squadron adopted their present nickname, taking inspiration from their blue tail colors and their nuclear weapon delivery capability; hence the name "Blue Blasters."
From 1959 through 1966, the Blue Blasters operated from the decks of USS SARATOGA (CV 60) and USS ESSEX (CV 9). Squadron involvement in world events included clandestine operations in the Caribbean during the Bay of Pigs invasion and action off the coast of Lebanon in 1958. The squadron distinguished itself in the Gulf of Tonkin and North Vietnam in 1967 during the Vietnam Conflict onboard USS INTREPID (CV 11). Attack Squadron 34 was disestablished on 29 May 1969. Less than a year later, on 1 January 1970, the Blue Blasters were reestablished at NAS Oceana, Virginia, as the Atlantic Fleet’s sixth A-6A Intruder squadron.
Nine months later, VA-34 put to sea for an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) aboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) as part of Carrier Air Wing ONE (CVW 1). Events in the Middle East necessitated an unexpected sortie of CV 67 and her Air Wing to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1970. The squadron returned home in March 1971 from this unscheduled deployment, only one year old, but already in possession of the Meritorious Unit Commendation. In August 1971, VA-34 received the Battle "E" award as the Atlantic Fleet's top A-6 squadron. Between March 1971 and 1981, the Blue Blasters and CV 67 became well acquainted, deploying together for six cruises and associated work-ups.
VA-34 deployed aboard her new home, USS AMERICA (CV 66), in August 1982 for an eight-week North Atlantic cruise followed by the ORE. The squadron subsequently made deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean in 1982 and 1984.
The Blue Blasters made aviation history in 1986 as the squadron participated in Operations PRAIRIE FIRE and EL DORADO CANYON. VA-34 was the first squadron to employ the Harpoon Missile in combat, successfully defending ships of the U.S. SIXTH FLEET against threatening Libyan forces. Less than one month later, the Blue Blasters conducted a daring night, low-level, high-speed attack against Libyan terrorist barracks and aircraft storage facilities. The tactical expertise and combat readiness of the squadron was readily apparent when the Blue Blasters delivered their ordnance on target and returned without damage.
In October 1986 the Blasters detached from Carrier Air Wing ONE and joined Carrier Air Wing SEVEN in USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69). VA-34 participated in the complete work-up cycle throughout most of 1987. The men of VA-34 left NAS Oceana, Virginia in February 1988 for an extended Mediterranean deployment embarked in USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69 as part of Carrier Air Wing SEVEN). The Blasters participated in operations off the Libyan Coast along with numerous NATO exercises. Upon completion of deployment, VA-34 returned to NAS Oceana, Virginia in August 1988.
The Blue Blasters deployment in 1990 featured integration of night vision goggles and SLAM missile capability into their A-6Es. Midway through the deployment, the world was rudely awakened by Iraq's brutal invasion of Kuwait. In defense of President Bush's "Line in the Sand," the Blue Blasters transited the Suez Canal and took up station in the Red Sea. During the initial phase of Operation DESERT SHIELD, VA-34 provided the decisive stopping power that thwarted any further Iraqi military expansionism. The squadron returned home in September 1990. The Blue Blasters revisited Southwest Asia in September 1991. The deployment culminated with the Blaster's participation in North Star. The squadron returned home to NAS Oceana, Virginia on 2 April 1992.
The Blue Blasters’ next deployment was from May to November 1994, embarked in USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) for her maiden cruise. In June, the Blasters were afforded the opportunity to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day highlighted by their participation in a "missing man" formation over Omaha Beach, which was televised world-wide by CNN. The squadron played a major role in two of the world's hottest spots, Bosnia and Southern Iraq. Operational sorties were flown in both theaters enforcing United Nations mandates. Missions included Close Air Support over the former Yugoslavia, working closely with multi-national Forward Air Controllers and UN forces on the ground, and strike familiarization missions to targets below the 32nd parallel in Iraq. As a result of the squadron's superb operational readiness, the Blue Blasters were awarded the Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle "E" for 1994 and 1995.
The Blue Blasters departed in January 1996 for their last deployment flying the venerable A-6E Intruder in USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73). They flew in support of Operation DECISIVE ENDEAVOR over Bosnia Herzegovina and Operation SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq. Typical missions included Close Air Support and Airborne Forward Air Controller assisting US and UN troops on the ground. The squadron returned to NAS Oceana, Virginia for a long awaited homecoming with family and friends.
On September 30, 1996, Attack Squadron 34 was redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron 34 and returned once again to NAS Cecil Field, Florida. The Blue Blasters immediately began the transition to the Boeing FA-18C Hornet.
In June 1998, AIRLANT’s newest Strike Fighter Squadron deployed on the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69). Always on the cutting edge, the Blue Blasters made history again by becoming the first squadron to deploy in the new Lot XIX and XX Hornets. This deployment saw Blue Blaster pilots in the skies over Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation DELIBERATE FORGE, and over Iraq during Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. VFA-34 also participated in numerous international exercises and training detachments, including a two-week detachment to Sardinia, where Blaster pilots demonstrated their abilities fighting German MiG-29s. The Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Cecil Field, Florida in December 1998.
In March of 1999, the Blue Blasters conducted yet another homeport shift, moving from NAS Cecil Field, Florida to NAS Oceana, Virginia. Throughout the rest of 1999, the Blue Blasters executed a very demanding Inter-Deployment Training Cycle (IDTC), as a component of Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN in preparation for deployment. On May 10, 1999 the Chief of Naval Operations approved a modification to the squadron’s insignia tailoring the design to the FA-18 Strike Fighter community.
The VFA-34 Blue Blasters returned to USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) in June 2000 for yet another extended deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf. The Blasters had the opportunity to project power abroad in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and DELIBERATE FORGE. In December 2000, the Blue Blasters returned to NAS Oceana Virginia from a very successful cruise.
Upon their return, the Chief of Naval Operations with the presentation of the Rear Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky Award as the premier attack squadron in the U.S. Navy, and the Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet with the Battle Efficiency Award as the finest East Coast Strike Fighter Squadron recognized the Blue Blasters for exceptional performance.
Although just returning from deployment, the squadron executed a rigorous training cycle in 2001. The Blue Blasters were more than ready to protect the nation when called upon to participate in Operation NOBLE EAGLE. VFA-34 continued to prepare for the next opportunity to defend, represent, and honor the United States of America.
That opportunity came again in 2002, when the Blue Blasters embarked on the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) in June of 2002 for another deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea, and Arabian Gulf. The Blasters flew many sorties in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and SOUTHERN WATCH. The Blasters were among the last squadrons to fly missions over Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, as tensions with Iraq rose. The Blasters returned to NAS Oceana Virginia in December of 2002 and were immediately placed into an extended surge status, during the months leading up to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
The Blue Blasters remained in surge status through March of 2003 and were not called to serve in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Blue Blasters, along with the rest of CVW-17 swapped aircraft carriers with CVW-7, thereby making the Blasters part of the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) for the Inter-Deployment Training Cycle and upcoming cruise scheduled for 2004.
After an intense Inter-Deployment Training Cycle, involving 2 underway periods and 1 detachment to Fallon, NV, the Blue Blasters embarked on a Mediterranean Sea / Arabian Gulf deployment in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. This deployment was onboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67), and it entailed four and a half months in the Arabian Gulf, and the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY extended its time on station by just over 2 weeks until the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN could relieve her on November 20th. The Blue Blasters lead the way in supporting the ground fighters in Iraq against the insurgent movement and were very successful in doing so.
In March of 2005, Strike Fighter THREE FOUR became operationally attached to CVW-2 embarked on the west coast carrier USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72). The squadron spent the better part of 2005 and the first few months of 2006 preparing tactically and logistically for the eagerly awaited deployment that would begin in March and take them to places in the Far East that NAS OCEANA squadrons rarely have an opportunity to visit.
While deployed aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72), the Blue Blasters were the Air Wing’s Maritime Interdiction and Defensive Counter Air subject matter experts during 2006’s most visible force projecting exercises; FOAL EAGLE, VALIANT SHIELD and RIM OF THE PACIFIC. Following deployment the Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana, Virginia while remaining attached to CVW-2.
As a critical part of CVW-2, the Blasters spent 2007 preparing tactically and logistically for the eagerly awaited deployment that would begin in March 2008.
Starting in March 2008, the Blue Blasters put all of that training to use on a seven-month cruise. Deploying once again on the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VFA-34 provided vital airpower in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. VFA-34 spent another two months providing CAS in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM before returning home victorious in October 2008.
In the spring of 2009, after a long sustainment period, the squadron transitioned smoothly into a two week detachment to Key West, FL entitled “COPE SNAPPER 2009.”
Over the 2010 year, Strike Fighter Squadron THREE FOUR (VFA-34) prepared for, and embarked upon, a Western Pacific combat deployment with Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW-2) and Carrier Strike Group NINE (CSG-9), onboard the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72).
As a part of Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW-2) embarked aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the Blue Blasters spent the last four months of 2010 and first three months of 2011 forward deployed in the Western Pacific, the Gulf of Oman, and the North Arabian Gulf to support combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participating in Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN, VFA-34 supported the objectives of U.S. Central Command and FIFTH Fleet. The Blue Blasters returned to homeport NAS Oceana, VA on 19 March 2011 for a compressed sustainment period until August 2011.
After a short stand down period following deployment, VFA-34 prepared for, and embarked upon, a second world combat deployment with Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW 2) and Carrier Strike Group NINE (CSG-9), onboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72). The 2011 year came to an end with the entire squadron, once again, embarking aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72) in San Diego, CA on December 11th to begin their eight month world combat deployment.
As a part of Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW 2) continuing their combat deployment aboard the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72), Strike Fighter Squadron THREE FOUR spent the first seven months of 2012 forward deployed in the Western Pacific, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic to support combat missions in Afghanistan. Participating in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM VFA-34 supported the objectives of U.S. Central Command and FIFTH Fleet.
While on deployment, the VFA-34 Blue Blasters won the CVW 2 Top Hook three out of four line periods, resulting in Top Hook squadron for the entire deployment. VFA-34 also won the Retention Excellence Award, EAWS pennant, Blue “M” and “H” Gold Star Medical/Health promotion awards and the Golden Wrench award. After wrapping up their eight month combat deployment, the Blue Blasters returned to homeport NAS Oceana, VA on 07 August 2012.
Have Gun…Will Travel