Historic change of command for ‘Gunslingers’
(Change of Command: VFA-105:SA) 080609-N-4469F-071 VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (June 9, 2008) During Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105 change of command, Cmdr. Thomas Tennant reads his orders and assumes command from Cmdr. Sara Joyner. The ceremony took place in the "Gunslingers" hangar at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Edward I. Fagg

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When Cmdr. Sara Joyner relinquished command of Strike Fighter Squadron 105 to Cmdr. Thomas Tennant, it was a historic moment for naval aviation. Although very low key about her accomplishment throughout her time at NAS Oceana, Joyner became the first female aviator to command a tactical aircraft squadron when she took command in March 2007.

But during her change of command June 9 at the “Gunslingers’” hangar, the significance of her achievement was noted not by Joyner, but by Tennant, who served as her executive officer for the past 15 months.

“I’d like to thank you for allowing me to take part in your historic moment in naval aviation. I know you like to downplay the role you’ve played in history, but there’s no getting around it; you’re an extraordinary commanding officer,” said Tennant.

“I’m simply amazed at what they (the squadron) have accomplished under ‘Clutch’s’ remarkable leadership,” said Tennant, using Joyner’s call sign.

Joyner, an F/A-18 pilot, also became the first woman to lead a strike fighter squadron during a combat deployment. Joyner, who graduated from the U.S.Naval Academy in 1989, has accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours and more than 600 carrier arrested landings.

Her challenges began immediately following her change of command last year, with two weeks of tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA), which was followed by deployment work-ups. Just less than eight months after taking command, VFA-105 deployed on board USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) to the Arabian Gulf, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the seven-month deployment, the Gunslingers flew more than 1,880 combat missions, which totaled nearly 5,000 flight hours. Their support of coalition troops on the ground in Iraq included delivering 35,000 pounds of ordnance. Along with the other squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 3, the Gunslingers returned home May 31.

“You’ve taught me much about overcoming adversity, making decisions and leading people. You’ve struck a brilliant balance between a highly successful commanding officer and a mother to Sara Beth,” said Tennant, about Joyner’s dual role as leader of the 245 Gunslingers, as well as a mom to her 4-year-old daughter.

The ceremony’s guest speaker, Capt. Garry Mace, Standing Joint Force Headquarters Core Element in Norfolk, noted how even as a young lieutenant, Joyner showed so much promise that he knew that one day she would selected for command. During her career, Joyner has worked for Mace and considers him one of her role models. Mace noted how the squadron’s work contributed to Joyner’s successful tour. “For the Gunslingers, this is all about you. The skipper’s done a great job but it’s all on your backs of your efforts,” said Mace.

Also praising Joyner’s leadership skill was Commander, Carrier Air Wing 3 Capt. Fredrick Pawlowski who presented her with the Meritorious Service Medal.

Working with Joyner has broadened his personal perspective, said Pawlowski.

Joyner, has “broken the mold of a warfighter, as a commanding officer of a strike fighter squadron, and doing that during work-ups and a combat deployment is exceptional,” said Pawlowksi.

“You really have been a very good role model for all of us,” said Pawlowski. He added her hard work, professional expertise and ability to always do the job right is responsible for building the next generation of leaders in naval aviation.

As she began her speech, Joyner choose to recognize squadron members of all ranks and rates whose hard work resulted in her success. “What I received rightfully belongs to my 245 Gunslingers standing in front of me,” said Joyner about her Meritorious Service Medal .

“This is your award. You’ve definitely earned it,” she added.

She had special thanks for her husband, Cmdr. Jim Joyner, who provided her with “advice and support through a 19-year career, 15-year marriage, consecutive separations and nine joint deployments in our family. I wouldn’t be here without his support.”

Her challenges began immediately following her change of command last year with two weeks of tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA), which was followed by deployment work-ups and then leaving on Truman Nov. 5, 2007 for the combat deployment.

Joyner used her final speech as “Gunslinger One,” to recognize Lt. Paul Oyler with the Lt.j.g. William C. Niedecken Award for outstanding performance and initiation while at the squadron. Niedecken was stationed with VA-105 for barely a year when he was killed Feb. 15, 1969 while conducting combat operations in Southeast Asia. Even as the youngest officer in the squadron, Niedecken demonstrated unlimited career potential until his untimely death. The award is presented to one officer or enlisted Sailor at the conclusion of each commanding officer’s tour.

Joyner’s next tour is with the staff of the director, Air Warfare Division (N88), Officer of the Chief of Naval Operations.

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