JACKSONVILLE –Susy Fiallos stood watching as the first plane of sailors arrived. Rain and wind blew into the hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville Tuesday as she watched families reunite with their loved ones after six months apart.
Fiallos, who lives in Green Cove Springs, would have to wait a little longer as her fiance, a Master Chief with the unit, was on the second plane, the last plane from VP-5 to return home. Time ticked on and finally, after she had bundled a sweater around her red dress to stay warm at the edge of the hangar, a plane buzzed out of the overcast sky and touched down – Mark Tapley was home.
“Because of his job, we normally spend a lot of time apart, but we make the best of it when he gets back,” Fiallos said about her soon-to-be husband. “But I tend to like for him to get plenty of rest, so the day he gets back we don’t do anything too extreme or anything too boring.”
The plane taxied around the runway, eventually headed toward the hangar and opened its door. A handful of men stepped out only to go back into the plane, Fiallos muttered “what a tease,” to herself after catching a glimpse of Tapley before he went back into the plane. Finally, he emerged, walking toward the hangar, Fiallos met him halfway and leapt into his arms.
“[When I’m gone] I miss her every day, I miss the companionship,” Tapley said. “There are so many simple things in life that we take for granted.”
About 300 sailors returned to Naval Air Station Jacksonville over the course of a week during several homecoming events which concluded Tuesday morning with the arrival of the last two P-8A Poseidon airplanes to the base.
All members of VP-5 “Mad Foxes,” the sailors were deployed for six months and worked in three continents on a variety of missions, primarily locating enemy submarines.
“Our primary mission was to find and locate enemy submarines,” said Commanding Officer Will Toraason. “But the P-8 aircraft is the world’s 911 when they need us.”
During the deployment, the group was also dispatched from a location in El Salvador to Argentina when an Argentinian submarine – the ARA San Juan – went missing toward the end of 2017. The Mad Foxes also work with local law enforcement agencies to take note of and report suspicious ships they saw offshore and, as a result of that, helped authorities capture 33,000 kilograms of illegal drugs worth over $2 billion on the street.
“We train hard when we’re home so that we can go and execute America’s missions overseas,” Toraason said.
While in the 6th Fleet AOR, VP-5 operated out of 11 different countries across Europe and the Middle East from their primary base of operations in NAS Sigonella, Italy. VP-5 executed over 4,157 flight hours in support of the deployed operations including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights and anti-submarine warfare missions. Missions spanned the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Gulf and more.
VP-5 is made up of almost 300 personnel and seven aircraft.