The Hawkeye Country hangar at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, took on a different look the morning of Thursday, Dec. 6, as the “Wallbangers” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 117 prepared for a change of command.
Instead of being filled with aircraft on jacks and maintainers meticulously performing checks, the hangar was adorned with a large flag extending the length of Wallbanger spaces. Aircraft 600 and 601 flanked the stage upon which Cmdr. Fred Goldhammer would address his squadron for the last time as commanding officer, and upon which Cmdr. William Reed, the executive officer, would give his first words as the new CO.
For the Wallbangers, the past year and a half saw many changes through which the squadron was pushed and tested. Goldhammer, Reed, Command Master Chief Spike Call and Maintenance Master Chief Simanu Salonoa led the squadron through each challenge.
“We really didn’t have anything to give you, sir, when we told you what we would accomplish,” Goldhammer told Capt. Kevin Mannix, commander of Carrier Air Wing 11, during his farewell speech. “We didn’t have planes. We were losing all our experienced personnel due to manning and rotation dates. We were undermanned. Really, all we had was a personal commitment to accomplishing our part and surpassing what was expected of us.”
From having zero planes in December of 2011, VAW-117 now flies four of the most advanced E-2C Hawkeye 2000 aircraft, those equipped with the Communications Navigation Surveillance and Advanced Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) upgrade.
Maximizing training and opportunities for growth helped address the issue of experienced personnel rotating out of the squadron and the undermanned shops that resulted. Through programs that focused on supervisor-led in-rate training, such as Banger University, VAW-117 accomplished record-high personnel advancement during the past two advancement cycles while achieving a 100 percent sortie completion rate. As a result, the squadron received the 2012 Retention Excellence Award.
“You all have given me a lot of amazing things,” Goldhammer told the squadron. “You all have worked so hard for me and for yourselves. We have gotten here because of you. I challenge you to continue to hone that sharp edge and win on deployment.”
In his first address as commanding officer, Reed talked about family, integrity and excellence.
He said the Banger family would continue to grow by focusing on upholding the integrity of its practices and expecting nothing sort of excellence.
“Challenge yourself to master your trade, learn something new, and educate yourself or a subordinate,” he said. “We are a family — all the men and women assigned to VAW-117 and their immediate loved ones. Families are dedicated and loyal to one another, committed to the long-term health and success of one another.”
As the squadron gears up for its spring deployment, the Wallbangers receive continued support from the ever-growing network of friends and supporters both online through the squadron’s Facebook page and in the Ventura County community. John Wise, a close friend of Reed’s, addressed this.
“Hearing Capt. Kevin Mannix talk about the threats we still face around the country, about what this specific group of men and women will do over the next 12 months, drove it home for me,” he said. “I say thank you for your commitment and your sacrifice, for your hard work, for the loved ones who stay home and support you, for the loved ones who support the spouses and the children of these brave Americans.”
The ceremony gave the Wallbangers a small pause after a hectic month in which the squadron worked aggressively to “win” at the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).
“Rest hard,” Reed said. “You’ve all earned it. Take this time to relax and be safe.”
He closed with these words:
“Banger Nation matters,” he said. “You matter.”