By Dave "Hey Joe" Parsons
In the height of the Cold War, USS AMERICA was called upon to face down the Russian Bear in its own back yard. USS AMERICA and embarked CVW-1 left Norfolk in the Fall of 1985 to participate in Ocean Safari, which involved challenging NATO to find the AMERICA as it transited north of the British Isles en route to Vestfjord in Norway. Meanwhile, the Soviets tried to tail AMERICA starting at VACAPES where a Balzam Class AGI was waiting to "escort" the AMERICA Battle Group. Through deception and high speed tactics, the Balzam was lost the first night and AMERICA was on her own to face a second gauntlet of Soviet subs and ships trying to "blockade" the GIUK gap while NATO and Soviet aircraft were prowling the skies trying to find AMERICA.
Weather was on the side of AMERICA with solid overcast skies and heavy seas. The British press was making all sorts of claims that AMERICA couldn't possibly arrive without detection and that big deck carriers were outmoded relics that couldn't operate in the modern battle space. A bunch of reporters even chartered their own helicopter to find AMERICA on their own.
They didn't count on the crafty AMERICA team, which had plenty of tricks up its sleeves. CVW-1 and AMERICA had already proven themselves in the North Sea in Operation Northern Wedding in the Fall of 1982, so cold weather and pitching decks under leaden skies were nothing new to the old hands still aboard. It was an eye opener for the new folks though. SECNAV John Lehman was confident AMERICA would prevail and even joined the ship to host his doubting NATO counterparts.
AMERICA used the night and heavy seas to slip through the cordon of Soviet ships in the GIUK gap and began flight ops the following day, intercepting NATO and Soviet aircraft and ships at ranges up to 1,000 miles away in several directions, totally confusing both the NATO and Soviet units intent on locating her. Soviet Bear D surveillance aircraft were working the length and breadth of the GIUK gap looking for the elusive Battle Group.
When NATO finally launched her first assault wave, a VF-102 Tomcat, coming back from a 1200nm RECCE mission to photograph a Soviet Kynda cruiser in the English Channel, was able to slip in behind the gathering NATO armada and take out an RAF Tanker and its F-4 Phantom customers hundreds of miles from AMERICA in their assumed safe marshalling area. The Tomcat then chased down a surveillance P-3 and an RF-4 from behind, disrupting an entire sector. Meanwhile, while SECNAV was enjoying his lunch, the reporters were hopelessly lost and crying for help. Tomcats and tankers were launching in EMCON conditions and creating an outer air battle grid that handily took on all comers.
Once the NATO exercise concluded, AMERICA headed northeast to Norway where an even more daring tactic was employed. AMERICA sailed up into Vestfjord, a huge fjord, and conducted flight operations, shielded from prying soviet surveillance by the steep fjord walls. Tomcats launched and stayed below the cliffs until they reached the open sea before climbing to intercept the prowling Soviet Bears, Badgers and even Cub aircraft.
NATO tried an air assault one more time, figuring they had AMERICA boxed. By then, an amphibious ready group led by an LHA joined AMERICA. AMERICA stayed close to the gray fjord walls while the LHA sailed in the wide open area, attracting all the attention of the attacking NATO F-16 and A-10 aircraft. AMERICA had a grandstand seat watching the NATO aircraft do their low level approaches and pop-up attacks on the wrong ship.
The entire exercise was but one of AMERICA's episodes that took her from Southeast Asia and combat in Vietnam to the frigid north and temperate Med, through the Suez canal to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. What better name for one fine ship of the line?
Dave was commissioned into USMC and later transferred to USN after serving a Pentagon tour as a TACAIR Analyst in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. After joining his first fleet Tomcat Squadron, VF-102, he flew off USS AMERICA from 1982-1986 and participated in two North Atlantic NATO deployments in 1982 and 1985 (Northern Wedding and Ocean Safari) and three deployments to the Med/IO in 1982-1983, 1984 and 1986 including Operation Eldorado Canyon in the Gulf of Sidra. He left USS AMERICA with over 500 traps in his logbook. He then served as Editor of Approach Magazine at the Naval Safety Center, another fleet tour in Tomcats with VF-32, participating in Operations Desert Shield/Storm, followed by another Pentagon tour as the Air to Air Missile Requirements Officer in the Office of the CNO before retiring in 1994. He then joined the consultant firm of Whitney, Bradley & Brown, Inc. working weapons integration issues on Naval Aviation aircraft including a lead role in integrating the LANTIRN pod onto the F-14 Tomcat, which transformed its last ten years of operational service. In 2003, he accepted a position wtih NAVAIR as the lead of an Innovation Cell working to rapidly introduce capability to Special Operations and Naval Aviation warfighter commands in support of the Global War on Terror. He is also the author/coauthor of several books including his latest, "TOMCAT: Bye-Bye, Baby...!", a gotta-have-it book loaded with incredible shots of F-14s captioned with vignettes by the crew who flew them.