By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Grant Wamack, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

U.S 5th FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – The “Black Aces” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41 are conducting daily flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) from aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

By providing direct air support to coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan, flight operations contribute to the degradation of terrorist activities and improvement of overall security in the region.

“We contribute to OEF by providing close-air support, by being prepared to defend coalition forces when called upon to do so,” said Lt. Eric Rohan, weapons system operator (WSO), from Upper Marlboro, Md.

Before deployment, VFA-41 prepared for OEF by practicing close-air support missions and simulating armed surveillance.

“Afghanistan is a big country,” said Rohan. “It’s important that we’re prepared to fly overhead and know we have their [coalition ground forces] back.”

All nine aviation squadrons assigned to the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG) contribute to OEF; however, VFA-41 has one distinct difference that sets them apart from other F/A-18 squadrons.

“Our jets have two seats as opposed to one,” said Lt. Traver Fordham, pilot, from Gardnerville, Nev. “So we have an extra set of eyes. It allows us a little more flexibility when get close to certain borders in between countries.”

Cmdr. Layne McDowell, commanding officer of the Black Aces, agrees that being a two-seat fighter brings added capabilities to the fight.

“It allows us to operate as a forward air controller, airborne, (FAC (A)), in situations where the ground force commander or joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) [an operator on the ground who directs the actions of supporting aircraft] needs added support to control the fight from the air,” said McDowell. “The two-seat FA-18F is the only Navy airborne platform capable of performing this role, and we have done it recently on multiple occasions in Operation Enduring Freedom.”

VFA-41’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by troops with “boots on the ground.”

“It’s a huge comfort knowing that we have an asset overhead like a jet,” said Army Capt. Carlos Semidey, ground liaison officer (GLO), from Fajardo, Puerto Rico. “When we find ourselves in trouble on the ground and we need to call in for air support, it brings peace of mind knowing our friends in the Navy are doing everything they can to help us out and keep us safe.”

The JCSCSG is not the only Navy asset supporting operations in Afghanistan. Sailors serve throughout all 34 Afghan provinces and in the six Navy-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), promoting governance, enhancing security and aiding in reconstruction efforts.

JCSCSG, consisting of Stennis, Carrier Air Wing 9, Destroyer Squadron 21, and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom.

For more information on the JCSCSG, visit http://www.stennis.navy.mil or http://www.facebook.com/stennis74.

(photo)

Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Shamblee and Lt. Alexis Schafer display a U.S. flag in the cockpit of an FA-18F Super Hornet from the “Black Aces” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41 during a break in support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Lieutenant Daniel Hilligrass/Released)

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