NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower's carrier Air Wing Seven returned home to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach Tuesday afternoon.
The men and women of Carrier Air Wing Seven have been gone for four months participating in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and supporting maritime security operations in the North Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.
While gone, they completed more than 5,000 missions totaling nearly 13,000 flight hours.
USS Eisenhower returned to Norfolk in December only to be redeployed about two months later after problems developed with work being done on USS Nimitz, which was supposed to relieve the Eisenhower.
The Eisenhower's Air Wing will be the first locally-based air wing to feel the budget crunch. Instead of averaging about 25 hours in the cockpit for flight training, the Ike's Air Wing will be flying about half as many hours per month, spending more time in simulators versus in the cockpit.
"[Reducing flight hours] means minimum proficiency for a certain amount of time," said RADM Mike Shoemaker, Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic.
"Minimum proficiency is what's required for us right now," said Captain Terry Morris, Commander Air Wing Seven. "So, it's proficient enough for us to continue to work, and it preserves about $14 million that can be used elsewhere."
The Navy hopes to save about $2 million per month by reducing flight hours.
"We'll fly what we're given, and we'll be prepared on the back end to fly more when the opportunity arrises," said Fitz Gentry, Squadron Commander VFA-103.
His wife, Karen Gentry, has faith in her husband and the pilots he leads. She admits to having some concerns as well.
"Very difficult for them to transition from that, from cruise and working every single day for pretty much 11 months solid," she said. "Doing what they trained hard for and then to come and bubble wrap the jets, it's going to be a difficult thing."
Retired Naval Aviator Captain Jim Cox was there Tuesday to welcome home his son who has taken up the family business of flying for the Navy. While it may not be ideal, he thinks minimum proficiency will be enough to keep his son and the nation safe.
"Their currency will be built back up again," he said. "So it's not like just jumping back in and going out and doing training. They'll get some training flights before hand..."
The homecomings continued at Naval Station Norfolk when the Hawkeyes with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 1-21 and Sea Hawk helicopters with Helicopter Support Squadron Five landed at Chamber Field.
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower will return to Naval Station Norfolk Wednesday.
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