The Black Aces and President Reagan

FRESNO, Calif.

I had the opportunity to travel there and learn the ties between one N.A.S. Lemoore squadron and Mr. Reagan's presidency. And how four members of today's Navy came to serve America's 40th president after his death.

When the fighter jets are training over the skies above of the Naval Air Station those call the roar they make 'The Sound of Freedom'. And in this place that is as normal as breathing.

Training, maintaining and flying the Hornet jet fighters leads to serving aboard America's aircraft carriers. And pride in those skills runs high among the base's eighteen fighter jet squadrons.

Duty and pride go hand in hand from the pilots' ready room to the 'maintainers', the folks who insure that each aircraft is in top flight condition. Lt. Graham Scarbro says the squadron counts on their skills here on base and out at sea, "We just got back from an eighteen month combat cruise in Afghanistan in March and this summer we're leaving again."

On land or at sea, battle ready conditions are the goal. That's the reason for the training and the ready to hit the sky aircraft.

Now imagine a different scenario where all that daily care didn't happen. Last summer at the Ronald Reagan Library a decades old F-14 Tomcat jet was in very sad shape.

But in 1981, just 8 months into Mr. Reagan's presidency, the Tomcat was the hottest jet on the planet and America was in a standoff with Libya over air space in the Mediterranean. That led to an aerial dog fight ordered by President Reagan. The first such action since the Vietnam War.

John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan Presidential Foundation explained the situation, "These F-14's were fired on by Libyan fighter aircraft and both were shot down by Black Aces F-14's. And the message was sent that set the stage for Reagan foreign policy for the future. That is, we wanted peace but we were gonna have peace through strength."

That mission in 1981 became part of the sixty year history of the Black Aces squadron. And when Heubusch explained how they needed that Tomcat to be perfect for the 100th birthday celebration, well, without hesitation, N.A.S. Lemoore's Black Aces volunteered to do the job.

For two weeks last August three 'Black Aces' maintainers stripped, sanded, painted and detailed that aging jet; insuring it would be as if it were ready to be flown by other pilots from back in that day. Maintainer Daniel Price called it a challenge, "Learning how to paint the Tomcat, some pretty big jet, was tough, there are a lot of angles and things like that that you have to get used to." His fellow maintainer Rachael Verwys, told us why she was glad to have had the opportunity, "To be part of something big like that, a lot of people are really admiring that."

A footnote in presidential history perhaps but an honor and privilege for these three 21st century Navy service members. Maintainer, Keith Griego really enjoyed having visitors watch their work and talking with them about it, "We even met a couple of people that had come down to see the jet who previously were in the vfa-41 that were maintainers. And we talked to them for a little bit and that was really cool." This year marks a milestone for the United States Navy - 100 years of naval aviation that continues, daily, on U.S. air bases and aircraft carriers here and all over the world.

As Lt. Graham Scarbro put it, "You don't always know what the next mission is going to be ahead of time; you just have to ready for whatever that is."

By midsummer the Black Aces will be back at sea doing what the squadron has been doing for the past 60 years: taking care of the interests of America wherever that turns out to be.

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