Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE TWO SIX (VAW-126), nicknamed the SEAHAWKS, is an integral part of the tactical air forces of the United States Navy. VAW-126 is one of six Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadrons based in Norfolk. Equipped with four E-2C "Group II" aircraft, the squadron's primary mission is on-scene airborne command and control for the Joint Warfare Commander. VAW-126 implements command and control through diverse operations such as fighter intercept and air strike control, ocean surveillance, search and rescue coordination, airborne battle-space management, and dynamic strike control.
VAW-126 was commissioned in Norfolk, VA April 1st, 1969. Equipped with four E-2A Hawkeye aircraft, the squadron was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN assigned to USS FORRESTAL (CV 59). Following completion of their first deployment in July 1970, the squadron transitioned to the E-2B. This was a newer version of the same aircraft, equipped with a more flexible, digital computer weapons system. The command received accolades early in its history, winning the highly coveted COMNAVAIRLANT Battle Readiness Efficiency "E" and the CNO Safety “S” Award in 1971. The squadron won the Battle "E" a second time in 1974.
While homeward bound in September 1974, the squadron transferred to USS AMERICA (CV 66). The NATO deployment marked VAW-126's final E-2B flying as well. Following their return to Norfolk in October 1974, the squadron began its transition to the E-2C, Group 0 variant, an aircraft similar in appearance to its predecessor, but with a significantly more capable and reliable weapons system.
In August 1975, the squadron commenced operations in the Caribbean with CVW-9, based at NAS Miramar, California. In May 1976, they began the first of many trips moving the entire squadron back and forth between Norfolk and Miramar to operate with CVW-9 and prepare for their upcoming deployment aboard USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64). The squadron made their second and final Western Pacific deployment with USS CONSTELLATION in May 1978.
The SEAHAWKS joined USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) and CVW-1 upon returning to the East coast in 1979. In July 1981, VAW-126 joined CVW-3, which replaced CVW-1 as the air wing deployed aboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67). The September 1983 to May 1984 deployment was a record breaking one for VAW-126. Many monthly and quarterly records were set. In addition to receiving the 1983 Battle "E," the squadron won the COMNAVAIRLANT "Silver Anchor" award for superior retention and the Airborne Early Warning Excellence Award as the best VAW squadron in the Navy. The SEAHAWKS departed for the Mediterranean aboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) a second time in August 1986.
Upon their return in March 1987, the SEAHAWKS kept active by participating in a variety of exercises including a MISSILEX off Brunswick, Maine, and the VACAPES OPAREA, AEGIS support, and drug interdiction operations. By November 1987 the squadron was back aboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) in preparation for their next deployment. 1988 proved to be another outstanding year for the SEAHAWKS. The SEAHAWKS once again were awarded the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E," Meritorious Unit Commendation, and won the CVW-3 and CAEWWING 12 nomination for the Secretary of Defense Maintenance Excellence Award. In June, the Carrier Strike Group assembled for FLEETEX 2-88 and the SEAHAWKS departed with USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) in August for its 4th deployment on board.
The SEAHAWKS set sail for its final deployment attached to the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY BATTLE GROUP in August 1990 answering the call for Operation DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. During Operation DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, the SEAHAWKS accumulated over 2850 flight hours. On June 8th, the squadron led a mixture of CVW-3 aircraft in a victory fly-by in Washington D.C.
In late 1993, the CVW-3 team was reassigned to USS DWIGHT D EISENHOWER (CVN 69) and deployed to the Mediterranean with the USS EISENHOWER BATTLE GROUP in October 1994. The SEAHAWKS were also awarded the 1994 Battle 'E' and the Airborne Early Warning Excellence award. In late 1995, the CVW-3 team was once again reassigned, this time to USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) BATTLE GROUP.
In November 1996, the SEAHAWKS deployed to the Mediterranean in support of Bosnian and Adriatic Operations. While in the Adriatic the SEAHAWKS flew several missions over the beach and provided ABC2, AEW, and ES in support of NATO air operations. In November 1998, VAW-126 deployed aboard USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) for JTG 99-1. In its first few months, the squadron participated in Arabian Gulf operations including Operations DESERT FOX and SOUTHERN WATCH. VAW-126 also participated in Juniper Stallion, INVITEX, and in Kosovo operations. In all, the squadron and everyone aboard USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) transited the Suez Canal four times during that deployment. The Carrier Battle Group wrapped up the deployment in the Arabian Gulf and returned home 6 May 1999.
From July to September of 1999, VAW-126 participated in Counter-Narcotics operations, based out of Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The SEAHAWKS, in cooperation with Joint Interagency Task Force, monitored and detected illegal drug suspects in the Caribbean. After returning from Puerto Rico, VAW-126 also assisted in air control for the massive search and rescue effort to rescue Hurricane Floyd survivors in North Carolina.
VAW-126 deployed onboard the Navy's newest aircraft carrier at the time, USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75) from November 2000 to May 2001. Their time was spent in the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas flying over 850 flight hours in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. The SEAHAWKS maintenance professionals earned two Golden Wrench Awards while deployed. Following deployment, the SEAHAWKS spent several weeks in Puerto Rico supporting counter-narcotic operations in the region.
The SEAHAWKS deployed aboard USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75) with CVW-3 in December 2002. Driving forward from a small corner of the Mediterranean, the SEAHAWKS flew 100 sorties and over 445 hours in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The SEAHAWKS returned home to Norfolk in May 2003. In recognition of the year’s accomplishments, the SEAHAWKS were awarded the 2003 COMNAVAIRLANT Battle “E” as well as the 2003 RADM Frank Akers Award for Superior AEW Excellence.
In October 2004, VAW-126 deployed aboard USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75) to the Arabian Gulf for a second deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. During this highly intensive combat cruise, the SEAHAWKS surpassed all previous records by flying 419 combat missions into Iraq, accumulating more than 2000 flight hours in support of Operation IRAQI FEEDOM. In December 2004, the squadron sent two aircraft from the Arabian Gulf to Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM for the inauguration of the first democratically elected president. This was the first time the SEAHAWKS supported two separate campaigns simultaneously. The SEAHAWKS returned home in April 2005.
After the combat cruise in April 2005, the VAW-126 SEAHAWKS were constantly on the go supporting the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). In September of that year, the SEAHAWKS were called into service to perform rescue and relief operations in response to Hurricane Katrina. With over 150 aircraft operating over the devastated Gulf Coast at any given time, rescuing survivors and delivering much-needed supplies, command and control was essential. VAW-126 provided the air coordination, staging out of NAS PENSACOLA, FL, and flying more than 46 sorties over a period of 18 days.
Entering 2006, the SEAHAWKS transitioned from the E-2C+ Group II aircraft to the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 (HE2K) platform, which brings improved systems and instrumentation to the command and control field. The new platform was soon tested in March when the Seahawks participated in a mini-SFARP (Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program) with VFA-106 and VFA-37 at NAS KEY WEST, FL. This exercise enabled the flight officers and pilots to familiarize themselves with the added capabilities of the HE2K in the air-to-air operational environment. In March, the SEAHAWKS were informed that they were the recipients of both the CNAL Battle “E” Efficiency Award and the RADM Frank Akers “A” Award for AEW Excellence for CY 2005, effectively naming them as the finest Hawkeye squadron in naval aviation.
On November 4th, 2007, the SEAHAWKS deployed onboard the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75), commencing flight operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM that December. The next four months included sustained operations over Iraq in support of Army, Marine Corps, and coalition personnel on the ground. In April 2008, increased insurgent activity in Basrah, Iraq, resulted in the SEAHAWKS flying additional combat missions, providing time sensitive command and control to coalition forces allowed them to secure the city and ultimately defeat the uprising. The SEAHAWKS’ CEC capability provided the strike group commander a Single Integrated Air Picture (SIAP) extending as far north as Baghdad, Iraq. Combat operations ended for the squadron on April 29th and the strike group prepared for the long transit home, making final port visits to Rhodes, Greece, and Marseilles, France, along the way. After departing Marseilles, the SEAHAWKS hosted French E-2C Hawkeyes for a day of carrier launch and recovery operations. The SEAHAWKS returned home on June 4th, 2008, concluding another successful combat deployment and earning the squadron the CNAL Battle “E” Efficiency Award for FY 2008 and the RADM Akers AEW Excellence Award for CY 2008.
In the months following their return from deployment, the SEAHAWKS swapped four aircraft with the WALLBANGERS of VAW-117. From June 2008 to February 2009, the SEAHAWKS participated in multiple events controlling fighters off the coast of Virginia in order to remain tactically proficient to become ready for the next set of deployment work ups.
The SEAHAWKS had an incredibly busy and arduous year in 2009 as workups began. VAW-126 was getting ready for their next deployment by training in NAS Fallon and participating in TSTA, COMPTUEX, and JTFX aboard the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75). The SEAHAWKS were honing their operational skills and carrier landings in preparation for their upcoming deployment.
On May 20th, 2010, the SEAHAWKS deployed onboard the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75), in support of Operations NEW DAWN and ENDURING FREEDOM. VAW-126 deployed for seven months supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. FIFTH FLEET area of responsibility. This deployment included sustained operations over Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Army, Marine Corps, and coalition personnel on the ground. The SEAHAWKS enjoyed port visits in Marseilles, Dubai, Bahrain, and Souda Bay. Before stopping in Marseilles, the SEAHAWKS hosted French E-2C Hawkeyes for a day of carrier launch and recovery operations. The SEAHAWKS conducted 324 combat sorties accumulating over 1,520 flight hours in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN and were an integral part of CARRIER AIR WING THREE (CVW 3). The SEAHAWKS returned home on December 20th, 2010, concluding another successful combat deployment. They earned the CNAL Battle “E” Efficiency Award for FY 2010, the RADM Akers AEW Excellence Award for CY 2010, and the Safety “S” for CY 2010.
Since December of 2010, the SEAHAWKS transitioned from the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 aircraft to the E-2C+ Group II aircraft. VAW-126 has maintained their battle readiness with CARRIER AIRWING THREE and CARRIER STRIKE GROUP TEN in preparation for the support of overseas operations wherever and whenever they are called.