Navy Cmdr. Ken Klothe doesn’t mind being called the head Screwtop. In fact, it’s a term of endearment.
Nor do the rest of the sailors assigned to the Norfolk, Va.-based Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123 mind being called Screwtops.
Good thing, because it’s the squadron’s official name.
The Screwtops are among the large number of aviators throughout the sea service’s history to be assigned to squadrons that have had unusual nicknames.
Looking through the Navy’s All Hands magazine from January, it’s clear that the names run the gamut from cool to, well, crustacean.
Crustacean, as in the Navy Reserve’s Patrol Squadron 94 Crawfishers, which has a large, red crayfish on its unit emblem.
Some of the more unique squadron names have evolved from a variety of sources, ranging from their mission to where they’re based.
The Zappers of Electronic Warfare Squadron 130 fly the EA-6B Prowler, which has equipment that can jam enemy radars. The Crawfishers fly from New Orleans and it’s an appropriate name as Louisiana exports the majority of the world’s crayfish.
One squadron even earned its official name from the sickly look of their squadron insignia.
The Pukin’ Dogs of Fighter Squadron 143 were originally known as the Griffins, which is a mythical creature that had the head and wings of an eagle and a body of a lion.
Squadron lore holds two versions of how it got its new name, both of which involve someone mistaking the Griffins insignia’s down-turned head and open mouth for a, well, vomiting dog.
Though not as strange as being called the lead Pukin’ Dog, being the head Screwtop does sometimes bring an unusual response when introduced.
“You always get an appreciative smile like [they’re saying] ‘you poor schmo,’ ” Klothe said.
When Klothe took over the squadron, his father, a retired Army warrant officer, told him that one thing he had to do while in command was to change the squadron’s name. He couldn’t do it.
“Whether you’re the skipper of the Pukin’ Dogs or Red Rippers (of Fighter Squadron 11), it’s something you’d never change because it’s so unique,” Klothe said.
“The guys are proud to be Screwtops.”
Klothe served with the Bluetails, which had a blue-painted stuffed hindquarter of a deer in the squadron ready room, before coming to the Screwtops.
The Screwtops started out as the Cyclops long before Klothe took over as the unit’s commander. The aircraft’s large, spinning radar dome had an “all-seeing” eye painted in the center of the dome. When squadron members added a large swirl radiating out from the eye, it looked to others like the aircraft had a giant screw on its top. So, the Cyclops became the Screwtops.
They are the only unit to have their radar domes painted that way, and in the past year Screwtops aircraft have flown over both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another squadron name of a similar turn is the Screwbirds of Sea Control Squadron 33 from Naval Air Station North Island, Calif. They fly the S-3B Viking maritime patrol aircraft and their unit insignia is, appropriately, a red bird with a giant screw stuck through its middle.
Neither screwy, crazy — nor mad — are the Mad Foxes of Patrol Squadron 5, which is currently deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily.
The name always draws questions, said Lt. j.g. Michael Moody, VP-5’s public affairs officer.
“[The name] refers to the MAD — a magnetic anomaly detector that’s part of our [aircraft’s] capabilities,” he said about their P-3C Orion maritime surveillance and submarine hunting aircraft. The MAD can detect changes in the earth’s magnetic field brought about by submarines.
Squadron personnel wear unit patches that show a hammer- holding fox getting ready to hit a periscope.
“It’s a name of pride,” Moody explained. “I think that it helps with the camaraderie of the squadron.”
And when there are nearly three dozen F/A-18 squadrons in the Navy, it’s important to have a name that stands out.
So for every squadron with a name like the Gunslingers or the Eagles, there are others called the Fighting Omars, Old Buzzards or even the Fighting Escargots.
Yes, escargots as in the French word for snail.
Squadron lore has it that the name originated from the slow-flying speed of the propeller-driven E-2C Hawkeye. The Fighting Escargots, a Navy Reserve unit, crawled out of active service earlier this year.
Navy ships, on the other hand, are pretty much immune, as they’re usually named after places, people or battles.
The USS Cowpens, named after a Revolutionary War battle, carries a few unique nicknames, however. They’re officially the “Thundering Herd” and, unofficially the “Mighty Moo,” a play on the “Mighty Mo” of the battleship USS Missouri.
Thought the latter nickname’s not official, there are plenty of references on its official Web site. Instead of a webmaster, the ship’s got a “moomaster” and instead of serving hamburgers on a recent deployment, they served more than 2,500 “mooburgers.”
More Navy monikers
Some of the more unusual Navy squadron names throughout the years: