Strike Fighter Squadron 34 Command History
As a front-line strike fighter squadron, the Blue Blasters have directly participated in World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam Conflict, Operation DESERT SHIELD, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, and Operations IRAQI FREEDOM. The squadron has flown eight different aircraft types from the decks of 26 carriers while compiling an enviable list of “first.”
The squadron was originally commissioned the VF-20 “Jokers” on 15 October 1943 as part of Air Group TWENTY stationed at NAS San Diego. The squadron was composed of numerous newly winged Naval Aviators along with a few combat hardened pilots. Among those veterans who later joined the command was LT Al Vraciu, credited with downing six Japanese Zeros during the famous Marianas Turkey Shoot.
Flying F6F HELLCATS from the deck of USS Enterprise (CV 6), VF-20 was heavily involved in the initial invasion operations in the Philippines, including the epic battle of Leyte Gulf. As part of Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s Northern Strike Group, VF-20 assisted in sinking one of the world’s largest battleships, the IJNS Musashi (sister ship to the IJNS Yamato), and was given credit for partial kills on several Japanese cruisers and destroyers. LCDR Fred Bakutis, the first commanding officer of VF-20, was shot down during this attack and survived a week adrift at sea. He was later awarded the Navy Cross.
After deployment, VF-20 cross-decked to the USS Lexington (CV 16) nicknamed the “Grey Ghost.” From her decks, the “Jokers” struck various targets from Taiwan to the Japanese mainland.
During WWII, eight VF-20 pilots became aces, 12 pilots received the Navy Cross and 22 received the Silver Star. VF-20 was credited with the destruction of over 15 ships and 407 aircraft, not counting the number of vessels that were damaged but not destroyed. For their combat efforts, the command was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in 1944 and 1945, along with the Navy Unit Citation. Names of VF-20 personnel are enshrined along with other members of Air Group TWENTY in the CV-16 Memorial in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Shortly after the surrender of Japan, the squadron transitioned to the F8F BEARCAT and was re-designated VF-9A. After being re-designated again in the summer of 1948 as VF-91, the squadron became VF-34 in 1950. It was then that the squadron transitioned to its first jet aircraft, the F9F PANTHER.
One year later, the squadron began initial training in the F2H BANSHEE. After returning from a cruise aboard USS Leyete (CV 32), the unit transferred to NAS Cecil Field. The majority of the next two years were spent operating from the attack carriers USS Hornet (CVA 12), USS Midway (CV 41), USS Bennington (CVA 20), USS Tarawa (CV 40), and USS Randolph (CVA 15). Upon returning to NAS Cecil Field in 1955, the squadron was again re-designated as VA-34.
In the spring of 1956, the squadron accepted its first F7U CUTLASS, which it operated until receiving A-4D SKYHAWKS in March 1957. It became the first SKYHAWK squadron to deploy to the Mediterranean, adopting its present nickname based upon its blue tail colors and nuclear weapon delivery capability; hence the name “Blue Blasters.”
From 1959 through 1966, the Blue Blasters operated from the decks of USS Saratoga (CV-60) and USS Essex (CV 9). Squadron involvement in world events included clandestine operations in the Caribbean during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and action off the coast of Lebanon in 1958. The squadron distinguished itself while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin and over North Vietnam in 1967 during the Vietnam Conflict aboard USS Intrepid (CV 11). Attack Squadron 34 was disestablished on 29 May 1969. Seven months later, on 1 January 1970, the Blue Blasters were reestablished at NAS Oceana as the Atlantic Fleet’s sixth A-6A INTRUDER squadron.
Nine months later, VA-34 put to sea for an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) as part of Carrier Air Wing ONE (CVW-1). Events in the Middle East necessitated an unexpected sortie of CV-67 and her Air Wing to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1970. The squadron returned home in March 1971 from this unscheduled deployment in possession of the Meritorious Unit Commendation. In August 1971, VA-34 received the Battle "E" award, being recognized as the Atlantic Fleet's top A-6 squadron. Between March 1971 and 1981, the Blue Blasters and CV-67 became well acquainted, deploying together for six cruises and associated work-up cycles.
VA-34 deployed aboard her new home, USS America (CV 66), in August 1982 for an eight-week North Atlantic Cruise followed by a period of overhaul for the CV-66. The squadron subsequently made deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean in 1982 and 1984.
The Blue Blasters made aviation history in 1986 while participating in Operations PRAIRIE FIRE and EL DORADO CANYON. VA-34 was the first squadron to employ the HARPOON missile in combat, successfully defending ships of the U.S. SIXTH Fleet against threatening Libyan forces. Less than one month later, the Blue Blasters conducted a daring, night low-level, high-speed attack against Libyan terrorist barracks and aircraft storage facilities. The tactical expertise and combat readiness of the squadron was readily apparent when the Blue Blasters delivered their ordnance with precision on target while returning unscathed.
In October 1986, the Blue Blasters detached from CVW-1 and joined Carrier Air Wing SEVEN (CVW 7) aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). VA-34 participated in a complete work-up cycle throughout most of 1987. The crew of VA-34 left NAS Oceana in February 1988 for an extended Mediterranean deployment, participating in operations off the Libyan Coast and in numerous NATO exercises. VA-34 returned to NAS Oceana in August 1988 upon completion of deployment.
The Blue Blasters’ deployment in 1990 featured the integration of night vision goggles and SLAM missile capabilities into their A-6Es. Following Iraq’s August 1990 occupation of
Kuwait, the Blue Blasters transited the Suez Canal and took up station in the Red Sea in defense of President Bush's "Line in the Sand". During the initial phase of Operation DESERT SHIELD, VA-34 was a critical asset providing reinforcement to coalition units while deterring further Iraqi aggression before returning home in September 1990. The Blue Blasters next revisited Southwest Asia in September 1991. This deployment culminated with the Blue Blaster's participation in NATO exercise North Star before returning home to NAS Oceana on 2 April 1992.
The Blue Blasters’ next deployed aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) for her maiden cruise from May to November 1994. In June, the Blue Blasters were afforded the opportunity to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day by participating in a "missing man" formation over Omaha Beach, televised world-wide by CNN. The squadron continued to play a significant role in two world “hot spots” during this time, flying operational sorties enforcing United Nations resolutions in Bosnia and Southern Iraq. Missions included Close Air Support (CAS) over the former Yugoslavia working closely with multi-national Forward Air Controllers and UN forces on the ground, and strike familiarization missions on targets south the 32nd parallel in Iraq. As a result of the squadron's superb operational readiness, the Blue Blasters were awarded the Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle "E" for 1994 and 1995.
The Blue Blasters departed in January 1996 aboard CVN-73 for their last deployment flying the A-6E Intruder in support of Operation DECISIVE ENDEAVOR over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Operation SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq. Typical missions included CAS and Airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC (A)) assisting U.S. and UN troops on the ground. The squadron returned to NAS Oceana for a long-awaited homecoming with family and friends.
On September 30, 1996, Attack Squadron 34 was re-designated VFA-34 and returned once again to NAS Cecil Field where they immediately began transitioning to the Boeing F/A-18C Hornet.
In June 1998, AIRLANT’s newest Strike Fighter Squadron deployed aboard CVN-69, becoming the first squadron to deploy in the latest Lot XIX and XX Hornets. This deployment saw Blue Blaster pilots in the skies over Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation DELIBERATE FORGE and over Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Additionally, VFA-34 participated in numerous international exercises and training evolutions, a highlight of which included a 2-week detachment to Sardinia where Blaster pilots demonstrated their professional skill fighting against German MiG-29s. The Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Cecil Field in December 1998.
In March of 1999, the Blue Blasters conducted another homeport shift, moving from NAS Cecil Field to NAS Oceana. Throughout the rest of 1999, the Blue Blasters executed a demanding Inter-Deployment Training Cycle (IDTC) as a component of Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN (CVW-17) in preparation for deployment. On 10 May 1999, the Chief of Naval Operations approved a modification to the squadron’s official insignia, tailoring the design to the F/A-18 Strike Fighter community.
The VFA-34 Blue Blasters returned to CVN-73 in June 2000 for an extended deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf, projecting power abroad in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and DELIBERATE FORGE. In December 2000, the Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana. Upon their return, the Blue Blasters were recognized for their exceptional performance by being awarded the Rear Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky Award as the premier attack squadron in the U.S. Navy, and the Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle “E” Award as the finest east coast Strike Fighter squadron.
Despite having just returned from deployment, the squadron continued to excel, completing a rigorous training cycle in 2001. The Blue Blasters were more than ready to protect the nation when called upon to participate in Operation NOBLE EAGLE following the September 11th terrorist attacks. VFA-34 continued to prepare for their next opportunity to execute their primary mission.
That opportunity came again in 2002 when the Blue Blasters embarked aboard CVN-73 in June for another deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf. The Blue Blasters flew sorties in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and were among the last squadrons to fly missions over Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH as tensions with Iraq rose. The Blasters returned to NAS Oceana in December of 2002 and were immediately placed into an extended surge status during the months leading up to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
After an intense IDTC involving two underway periods and a detachment to NAS Fallon, NV, the Blue Blasters embarked aboard CV-67 for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. The Blue Blasters were instrumental in providing support to coalition ground forces in Iraq engaged in counterinsurgency operations.
In March of 2005, VFA-34 joined Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW 2), embarked aboard west coast carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). The squadron spent the better part of 2005 and early 2006 preparing for a March deployment that would take them to numerous destinations in the Far East in support of the CDRUSPACOM Maritime Influence Strategy.
While deployed the Blue Blasters were the Air Wing’s Maritime Interdiction and Defensive Counter Air subject matter experts during three of the most visible and force projecting exercises that year: FOAL EAGLE, VALIANT SHIELD and Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). Following cruise, the Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana while remaining attached to CVW-2.
As a critical member of CVW-2, the Blasters spent 2007 preparing tactically and logistically for a deployment that would begin in March 2008. VFA-34 led the Air Wing in Air-to-Air execution during Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) and Air Wing Fallon. Their professional competency and expertise was additionally instrumental in the squadron winning the highly coveted CVW-2 Top Hook Award during Tailored Ship’s Training Availability (TSTA) and Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).
Deploying once again aboard CVN-72 in March 2008, VFA-34 provided vital airpower in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. After providing air support to friendly ground forces for two months in Iraq, the Blue Blasters and CVW-2 were called to assist coalition forces in Afghanistan. VFA-34 spent another two months providing CAS in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM before returning home in October 2008.
In the spring of 2009 after a long sustainment period, the squadron transitioned smoothly into “COPE SNAPPER 2009,” a 2-week detachment to NAS Key West. The first successful detachment of the year was followed abruptly by severe budget cuts, as the U.S. Navy experienced untimely cuts in funding and resources. Unfortunately, VFA-34 was not immune to budgetary constraints and was therefore shutdown for much of May 2009. Despite minimal flight hours and funding, the squadron channeled their energies via other means of service, providing generous time and manpower to Habitat for Humanity.
Throughout 2010, VFA-34 prepared for a Western Pacific combat deployment with CVW-2 and Carrier Strike Group NINE (CSG 9) aboard CVN-72. Preparations consisted of a flight deck certification and carrier qualification detachment in February, SFARP in March at NAS Fallon, TSTA embarked aboard CVN-72 in April, an Air Wing detachment to NAS Fallon in June and COMPTUEX aboard CVN-72 in July.
The Blue Blasters spent the last four months of 2010 and first three months of 2011 forward deployed in the Western Pacific, the Gulf of Oman and the North Arabian Gulf in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN. The primary objectives of flight operations while on station were to conduct power projection, CAS and Non-Traditional Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR). Support of coalition forces was accomplished by executing air-to-ground gun attacks, conducting low altitude/high speed shows of force and providing armed over-watch of friendly positions and patrols. Critical to mission success were the extensive communications and coordination between Blaster pilots overhead and the Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTAC) embedded with U.S and coalition ground forces. The Blue Blasters returned to homeport NAS Oceana on 19 March 2011 for a compressed sustainment period.
After a short stand down period following deployment, VFA-34 prepared for an around-the-world deployment with CVW-2 and CSG-9 aboard CVN-72. The arduous sustainment period and work-up cycle consisted of a carrier qualification detachment aboard CVN-69 in July 2011, an Air Wing detachment to NAS Fallon, in August and COMPTUEX aboard CVN-72 in October. The end of the year found the entire squadron embarking aboard CVN-72 in San Diego on 11 December to begin their eight-month combat deployment.
The Blue Blasters spent the first seven months of 2012 forward deployed to the Western Pacific, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. While underway, VFA-34 won the CVW-2 Top Hook the final three out of four line periods, resulting in Top Hook honors through the entire deployment. Additionally, the Blasters won the Retention Excellence Award, enlisted aviation warfare specialist pennant, Blue “M” and
“H” Gold Star Medical/Health promotion awards, the Golden Wrench Award and the prestigious Battle “E” award.
During deployment in 2012, the Blue Blasters flew 2,001 sorties, including 479 combat missions in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, and amassed 4,978 flight hours, achieving an impressive 102 percent combat sortie completion rate. The Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana on 7 August 2012 with a ten-ship formation fly-over after having circumnavigated the globe during deployment. VFA-34 finished the rest of 2012 conducting Unit Level Training.
The VFA-34 Blue Blasters began 2013 with a carrier qualification detachment aboard USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77). The Blasters were able to re-qualify 14 pilots and log 100 traps over a two-day period in the squadron’s first detachment to a three-wire carrier. The next phase of training included SFARP at NAS Key West focusing on air-to-air mission planning, employment and advanced tactics.
The Blue Blasters celebrated a milestone in spring of 2013 by hosting ceremonies for its 70th anniversary. Over 100 former Blue Blasters returned to NAS Oceana to attend the squadron’s 70th reunion, hosted by current officers of the Blue Blasters in a long weekend of squadron and simulator tours, a golf outing and a formal reception at the NAS Oceana Officers Club. In September, the squadron detached to NAS Fallon for an air-to-surface training detachment. Pilots completed successful training evolutions including the employment of live ordnance, precision guided munitions and Large Force Exercises at the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC).
During November of 2013, the Blue Blasters embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), re-qualifying 21 pilots during Carrier Qualification and conducting five Large Force Strike exercises during two weeks of cyclic operations. The Blue Blasters finished out the year with Unit Level Training at NAS Oceana.
The Blasters began 2014 continuing a workup cycle for the RIMPAC Exercise. The Blasters first detached to NAS Fallon for Air-to-Surface Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program. The Blasters then participated in TSTA embarked aboard CVN-76. As a part of TSTA, the Blasters completed carrier qualification and cyclic operations training for an upcoming Naval Exercise. VFA-34 concluded the workup cycle detached to NAS Fallon for Air Wing training with CVW-2 completing Large Force Employment strikes.
The Blue Blasters departed San Diego on 12 June aboard CVN-76 to participate in RIMPAC. The Blasters, as part of CVW-2, supported operations involving 22 nations, 49 surface ships, 6 submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. The Blue Blasters flew an incredible 446 sorties for 824.4 flight hours. Additionally, 100 percent of the weapons employed guided and fused to include: 97,000 pounds of air-to-surface ordnance, 2,747 rounds of 20mm, 11 rockets, 3 AIM-7, two AIM-120, 2 AIM-9, and 1 AGM-84K SLAM-ER. The Blasters returned to NAS Oceana 11 August.
The Blasters concluded the year with a CVW-2 detachment to NAS Key West honing air-to-air tactics and refining knowledge that is required to excel against a modern adversary.
The VFA-34 Blue Blasters began 2015 with unit level training from January through April. In May, the Blasters traveled to NAS Fallon for air-to-air and air-to-surface training. The Blasters then participated in TSTA aboard CVN-76, building cyclic ops proficiency and integration with the ship and rest of the Air Wing. VFA-34 then embarked aboard CVN-73 to participate in SOUTHERN SEAS 2015. As part of a four-month deployment, the Blasters joined in UNITAS PACIFIC and UNITAS ATLANTIC naval exercises, safely executing 330 sorties with a 96 percent completion rate. As part of UNITAS PACIFIC and ATLANTIC, the Blue Blasters flew alongside Peruvian MiG-29s and MIRAGE 2000s, Chilean F-16s, and Brazilian F-5s and AMXs.
The Blue Basters spent the majority of 2016 executing work-ups for their upcoming Western Pacific Deployment embarked aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) with Carrier Air Wing TWO. Work-ups included two detachments to NAS Fallon for SFARP and Air Wing Fallon and two detachments aboard CVN-70 off the coast of San Diego for TSTA and COMTUEX. Demonstrating exceptional quality, the Maintenance professionals of VFA-34 performed acceptance and turnover of an unprecedented 15 F/A-18C aircraft in preparation for the 2017 deployment. The Commander of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic (CSFWL) awarded VFA-34 the “Golden Wrench” in recognition of the outstanding work done by Blaster maintenance teams.
The Blue Blasters began 2017 by deploying with Carrier Air Wing TWO embarked aboard CVN-70 to the Western Pacific. VFA-34 provided critical capability to the Air Wing, being designated the primary “War-at-Sea” platform capable of carrying and employing up to four AGM-84D Harpoon missiles apiece. Members of the squadron enjoyed port calls in Guam, South Korea, Singapore, and Hawaii.
The Blue Blasters returned home from their 6-month Western Pacific deployment in July of 2017 to enjoy some well-deserved R&R back at NAS Oceana. The remainder of 2017 was spent preparing for a 2018 WESTPAC deployment and RIMPAC exercise. The Blue Blasters spent a month at NAS Fallon for Air Wing Fallon and a month embarked aboard CVN-70 for Sustainment Exercise (SUSTEX) in August and November of 2017 respectively. VFA-34 was again awarded the CSFWL Golden Wrench in recognition of the tireless efforts of the men and women of the Blue Blaster Maintenance department during their high ops-tempo year.
VFA-34 once again began 2018 by heading out to the Western Pacific, deploying with Carrier Air Wing TWO aboard the CVN-70 in January; this was to be the final operational cruise of the F/A-18C Hornet. Still performing the crucial role of primary “War-at-Sea” platform, the Blue Blasters also took part in a historic port visit to Da Nang, Vietnam, in March.
The Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana in April 2018 from their final WESTPAC and last Hornet cruise with CVW-2 for a brief period of rest and training before rejoining the air wing for the biannual RIMPAC international exercise in the waters surrounding Hawaii. VFA-34 and Carrier Air Wing TWO supported joint surface exercises in cooperation with our partner nations from around the Pacific, flying an impressive 250 sorties and 407 hours. Many of those sorties included expending live and inert precision-guided bombs, as well as coordinating and participating in a live missile shoot where the Blasters employed the
AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AIM-9M Sidewinder. Keeping the oldest fighters in the fleet flying is not a simple task; doing so with continued excellence is the Blaster standard. The Commander of Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW-2) chose to honor the maintenance professionals of VFA-34 with the CVW-2 Golden Wrench award for the first and second quarter of 2018.
In August 2018 the Blasters returned home to Virginia very briefly before turning right back around and rejoining CVW-2 in NAS Fallon for some unit-level and air wing level tactical training from August to September. VFA-34 made one more quick stop at home in NAS Oceana through the end of September before flying off once again to rejoin CVW-2 and CVN-70 out of NAS North Island in San Diego for SUSTEX and to carry out a joint training exercise with the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during the month of October before finally returning home to finish their sustainment in November of 2018.
VFA-34 has also received in recent years the following awards: the 2017 2nd Quarter and 2018 2nd Quarter CSFWL Safety ‘S’, the 2017 and 2018 Retention Excellence Award, and the 2016 and 2017 Blue ‘H’.
The Blue Blasters entered a maintenance phase in January 2019 as they awaited their upcoming transition to the F/A-18E Super Hornet, enjoying some well-deserved time at home and a reprieve from their strenuous deployment schedule. On 1 February 2019, the squadron hosted a sundown ceremony for the F/A-18E Super Hornet at NAS Oceana. This flight was the last of the “legacy” Hornet in an operational command. Afterward, VFA-34 entered a transitional maintenance phase, sending its pilots and maintenance personnel temporary duty to various schools and squadrons to study the Super Hornet. In June 2019, the squadron was deemed safe for flight, completing the transition to the F/A-18E Super Hornet. In late September, VFA-34 sent roughly half of the squadron to Nellis AFB in support of United States Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller training, spending two weeks there. The rest of the year was spent conducting unit level training at NAS Oceana and providing smaller bodies of personnel for various detachments and getting ready for the upcoming work-up cycle in 2020.
In February 2020, the squadron conducted air-to-air SFARP at NAS Key West in Key West, Florida. VFA-34 transitioned from Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8) to Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1) in September 2020, and officially began their work-up cycle leading to an eventual deployment in 2021.
After a busy year of work-ups in 2021, the Blasters capped off the year by departing on cruise on the Harry S. Truman CVN-75. The Blasters were originally scheduled for a six month deployment, but due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they were extended an additional three months. This was to ensure the U.S. maintained a presence in the Mediterranean. During this time Blasters flew many long range patrol missions over Romania to monitor the conflict in Ukraine. Throughout the deployment VFA-34 participated in exercises with a multitude of NATO nations, also sending detachments to Romania, Italy, France, Sweden, and Spain. The Blasters also landed aircraft on the Charles De Gaulle, a French aircraft carrier. On a lighter note the Truman made port calls in Souda Bay, Marseille, Palma, Naples, Split, and Trieste during the deployment.
VFA-34 transitioned from Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1) to Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11) in November 2022, and officially began their work-up cycle leading to an eventual deployment in 2024.
The Blue Blasters of today are a formidable fighting force, fielding the most state-of-the-art technology and tactics the US military has to offer, supported by their most valuable and cherished resource: the men and women who make sustained professional excellence and “Victory in Combat” possible through their unwavering devotion to the squadron, mission, and nation.
Through EIGHT different aircraft types and 27 aircraft carriers, the Blue Blasters have never lost their sense of tradition. The Blue Blasters are seen and heard in the skies all over the globe flying under the call sign “Joker” as a tribute to our fighting heritage. The men and women of VFA-34 stand ready to heed our Nation’s call.