VX-20 Sailor retirement marks milestone for S-3

PATUXENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, MD—Donald Dirkin made history when he retired May 22.

He became the Navy's last active aviation warfare systems operator to fly an S-3 Viking. The AW rate will no longer have a seat on the plane.

The ceremony was at one of his favorite places: the Cedar Point Golf Course here.

"I can walk away from this, retire next week and say everything that I've done here was with the fleet first and foremost in my mind," Dirkin said.

For the past four years, Dirkin has worked here helping to develop the software that drives the S-3 weapon systems. He said he has received great support from the Naval flight officers and pilots of the S-3B team even though there was no longer a billet for aviation warfare systems operators on the S-3.

"They still made me feel part of the team," he said.

Dirkin has been doing test and evaluation on the software that Lockheed Martin develops. If the fleet doesn't like it or needs an upgrade, Lockheed Martin upgrades it and then it goes back for more test and evaluation.

He said his experience at Pax has been an important learning experience.

"Here I learned the government and acquisition and test and evaluation and what goes into getting the product out to the fleet," he said.

Dirkin joined the Navy in February 1983 and attended boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill. His orders took him to Philadelphia, near his Wenonah, N.J., hometown and from there, he went aboard USS Forrestal (CVA 59). Dirkin quickly realized he wanted to fly for the Navy so he applied for the AW rate.

He graduated from Naval Air Crew Candidate School in February 1985 and his first fleet squadron orders took him to VS-35, known as the Boomerangs. That squadron, now known as the Blue Wolves, is the one President Bush flew with earlier this month when he welcomed Sailors aboard USS Abraham Lincoln home.

"We were part of a brand new Carrier Air Group which was going to be called CAG 10," Dirkin said. "Because the fighter squadrons couldn't form up, they ended up disbanding the CAG and decommissioning our squadron."

In his first S-3 squadron, Dirkin island-hopped to Hawaii, Guam, Wake Island and Misawa, Japan.

"Initially we were the prototype squadron to see if S-3s could be viable over the Far East," he said.

VS-35 was the first S-3 squadron to deploy to Japan as a "proof of concept" that the "Mighty War Hoover" could be a viable permanent asset to the Carrier Air Wing stationed in Japan. As it turned out, they did that just a few years later becoming part of the Carrier Air Group aboard USS Independence (CV 62).

Dirkin credits PMA-299 engineer Mike McCurdy, who was Dirkin's Lead Petty Officer at VS-35, with encouraging Dirkin to come to Pax.

He met McCurdy in the '80s, "when leadership was the most important concept to enlisted people, at least it was to us," he said. "Two things he really taught me were leadership and be the best you can be in that aircraft."

In March 1990, Dirkin went to shore duty and attended the U.S. War College where he worked in the war gaming department doing research and development.

Dirkin said the highlight of his career was his time spent with VS-24 between 1994 and 1998 when he did two deployments flying Electronic Warfare Support along the coast of Bosnia.

"We were in Bosnia flying 24/7 and it just doesn't get any better than that," he said. "You're flying 24 hours a day seven days a week and flying combat sorties."

During this time his was the first squadron to shoot Tactical Air-Launched Decoys, unpowered glide decoys used to confuse enemy surface-to-air missile defenses during an air strike "to make it look like there are a bunch of airplanes," he said.

"My expertise was at a high. I understood warfare. I understood the S-3 airplane," he said. "I really dove into the books and tried to become as good in the airplane as I possibly could."

Dirkin met Capt. Steven Dailey, who was his commanding officer, at VS-24. Dirkin said Dailey taught him the value of leadership.

"Captain Dailey was without a doubt the best commanding officer, leader and Naval officer I have had the pleasure to serve under," Dirkin said. "The way he led our squadron was just incredible. Everybody followed him and everybody would be willing to do anything for him."

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