"Cactus Air Force" Arrives in Iraq
Duprey, Susan, Sea Classics
In late November, approximately 50 aircrew and maintenance personnel from the Valions of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 15 and the Golden Warriors of VFA-87 detached to Al Asad, Iraq, with five F/A-18C Hornet aircraft.
The detachment was designed to sustain Naval tactical air presence in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom while USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) executed a scheduled port call in the United Arab Emirates. Navy personnel deployed to Al Asad christened the makeshift detachment the "Cactus Air Force."
The term "Cactus Air Force" originated during WWII to describe the makeshift collection of Navy, Marine and Air Force combat aircraft assembled during the defense : of Guadalcanal ("Cactus" was the Allied codeword for the island).
Similar to the original Cactus Air Force, the planes operating out of Al Asad included multiple types of aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
Although operating in a foreign environment totally different from an aircraft carrier, the sailors of VFA-15 and VFA-87 provided combat-ready aircraft under the most challenging of circumstances. As sailors from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 arrived in Al Asad, they had to overcome numerous obstacles to operate successfully in Iraq.
Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate James Cunningham of VFA-87 pointed out some of the initial difficulties: "We had to pistol qualify all detached personnel. We then had to issue pistols and ammo to each person, along with flak jackets and cold weather gear," Cunningham said. The maintainers in the detachment also had to pack enough tools and spare parts to maintain the Hornet contingent for at least a week. "If we didn't have a part that we needed, the Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 332 were always more than willing to lend us a hand," said Storekeeper 2C Teddy Mirjah, of VFA-15.
CVW-8 Sailors commandeered an abandoned MiG 25 hangar for their work center, and, coordinating with maintainers from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141, ' the Hornet maintenance personnel were able to set up an efficient working environment in a relatively short time. …