Yesterday, I volunteered a few hours with a Growler (EA-18G) squadron’s fly-in. I had volunteered my help to all of the squadrons, but since most airwing fly-ins occur on the same day and around the same time (most of the time!), I could only help the squadron who asked first. Luckily, one of my favorite groups of ladies asked for my help immediately! I haven’t met anyone attached to their squadron whom I dislike. They’re all just SO NICE. So, I was a happy helper yesterday.
Squadron spouses are VERY BUSY in the days leading up to a deployment fly-in. Usually there are poster painting parties, which are used to decorate their hanger. Many spouse clubs will decorate their hanger the day before fly-in. All attending spouses will be tasked to bring food or beverages. Some spouses will be tasked with purchasing party goods or renting tables and chairs. There may be a committee of spouses who are in charge of the ‘welcome table’ and party theme. These spouses may work for months leading up to the fly-in, because many squadrons order specialty items and gifts for the returning pilots, NFOs, and sailors. In the States, the fly-in parties can be large, hours-long parties with LOTS of food and fun party favors. Because they’re located in the States, entire families of the returning pilots and NFOs will attend the fly-in. In Japan, since usually the only person waiting for the incoming pilot or NFO is their spouse, the parties are smaller, but no less fun.
I arrived a half hour ahead of the first fly-in time. As typically occurs, the time was pushed back due to an issue on the boat (could range from a maintenance issue to, well, absolutely anything). I also loved that all of their spouses wore theme colors. Yes, I know, how sorority-ish, right? Since there were 4 professional photographers there taking photos, I think that they chose to go with a theme so that the pictures would look nice … and they did! Mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, one of the jets didn’t make it off the carrier (very typical). There was a maintenance issue with that specific jet, and the flight was cancelled. The pilot’s children were (understandably) very sad that they would not get to see their daddy, and I think the wife was more upset about the children then her husband. After all, she WILL see him, just not that day. Children don’t understand the idea of deferred gratification, which is why I’ve previously said that fly-ins can be really difficult for children.
I wore a nice tunic with leggings and a long black cardigan. My big fashion accessory was the squadron COW’s camera. Most of the spouses wore black, conservatively cut dresses with red and nude-colored accents. All of the children were either dressed to match their parent or dressed in little flight suits and flight jackets. Everyone was given American flags to wave as the jets taxied to the hanger. It was a beautiful sight — all those little families and spouses waiting for their loved ones to return home from deployment. Once the ground crews gave the all-clear to the families, the kids charged up to their arriving parent, and the adults shuffled behind (as fast as their nice high-heeled shoes could carry them). There wasn’t a dry eye present, even among the photographers.
Just following the fly-in, and before anyone went back to the hanger for food and beverages, the squadron CO “frocked” several sailors. During this short ceremony, the three sailors’ new ranks were pinned on to their uniforms, which signifies the sailors assuming their new rank in name and responsibility. In the military, sailors and officers alike may be promoted in name and responsibility for many months or up to a year before they actually see a pay raise (though, it usually takes less than a year). It was a very proud moment for the 3 sailors, and cheers to them!
I am very excited about the prospect of my husband taking part in a squadron fly-in sometime in the future (probably during his Department Head tour, which will be next). While I do not look forward to another deployment, I think that looking forward to the reunion makes the time apart just a little easier to bear.