By Lt. Elizabeth Elrod
Training Squadron 86 Changes Command at NAS Pensacola
The “Sabrehawks” of Training Squadron (VT) 86 held a change-of-command ceremony at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, March 4.
Cmdr. George “COB” Zintak relieved Cmdr. Eric “Cheese” Reeves as commanding officer during an aerial ceremony that followed a ground-based segment.
Reeves, a native of Baldwinsville, New York, assumed command of VT-86 in November 2019 after serving as executive officer since June 2018. During his tenure, Reeves oversaw a cadre of around 60 instructors dedicated to training Navy and Marine Corps, and international military naval flight officers (NFO). More than 347 NFOs received their Wings of Gold under his leadership, together accumulating more than 19,300 hours in T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft. Due to his leadership and safety consciousness, the command was awarded the CNO 2019 Naval Aviation Safety Award.
“This tour has without a doubt been the most fulfilling and rewarding of my naval career,” Reeves said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with such a professional team as the Sabrehawks. The instructors, civilians, and contractors do a phenomenal job every day ensuring the success of the future generation of naval flight officers. Having the opportunity to shape the future of Naval Aviation is something I will always cherish and I look forward to seeing many of our students as they continue to hone their warfighting skills in the fleet.”
Commodore, Training Air Wing 6, Capt. Scott “Mongo” Janik presided over the ceremony, attended by immediate family members and a limited number of instructors.
“Cmdr. Eric Reeves, you will be missed as Skipper of VT-86,” Janik said. “ROCKET 1 is a special title that the skippers of VT-86 carry on with them for life. Well done in your tour “Cheese” with ensuring all the NFO fleet seats for the VAQ (electronic attack) and VFA (strike fighter) communities were filled. Great job improving the training our NFOs receive in advanced jet training. Cmdr. Zintak, welcome to command. Keep leading from the front, “COB,” and enjoy your tour.”
The ceremony began in VT-86’s hangar and transitioned to the flight line. Three T-45C Goshawks took to the air with Reeves, Zintak, and TW-6 Chief Staff Officer Cmdr. Brett “Dingle” Hudspeth in the backseats. During the flight, Zintak’s aircraft took lead of the formation, signifying the transfer of leadership.
Reeves, a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, earned his Wings of Gold in May 2003. He served with various fleet squadrons including the “Screwbirds” of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 33, transitioned to the EA-6B Prowler and, ultimately, the EA-18G Growler with the “Vikings” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129. He reported to Carrier Air Wing 3 in 2014, where he deployed as an electronic warfare officer. In 2016, Reeves reported for his Joint Tour at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany. During this tour, he worked as the electronic warfare officer and then as an operations officer in the Joint Operations Center. Over the course of his career, Reeves has accumulated more than 2,300 flight hours and 400 carrier-arrested landings in the S-3 Viking, EA-6B Prowler, and EA-18G Growler.
Zintak is a native of Chicago. A graduate of Embry-Riddle University, he earned his commission through Officer Candidate School at NAS Pensacola, Florida. He earned his Wings of Gold in 2005 as a naval flight officer. He has accumulated more than 2,500 flight hours and 700 carrier-arrested landings in the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
Cmdr. Nicholas “RABBIT” Alfano, a native of Long Island, New York, assumed the role of executive officer. Alfano, a Naval Academy graduate, earned his Wings of Gold in 2006 as a naval flight officer. He has accumulated over 2,000 flight hours and 300 carrier-arrested landings, including 80 combat missions.
VT-86, located at NAS Pensacola, trains the world’s finest combat-quality naval flight officers, committed to global security and prosperity, and projecting naval air power worldwide. Graduates complete follow-on training with fleet replacement squadrons to prepare them for future fleet aircraft including the F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet and E/A-18G Growler.
Story by LT Elizabeth Elrod, VT-86 Public Affairs Representative Unit. Material provided by LT Michelle Tucker.
Photos Courtesy of Chief of Naval Air Training