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Naval Station Rota, Spain, will be saying “adios” to about 17 percent of its population in the coming months as three of the base’s tenant commands prepare to move back to the States or are disestablished.

Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 2, known as VQ-2, will be departing Spain for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash. Two smaller commands, Naval Security Group Activity Rota and Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Unit Rota, will soon be disestablished, Navy spokesmen said.

The Navy has considered moving VQ-2 — which has been in Rota for 45 years — for several years, said Lt. j.g. David Luckett, a 6th Fleet spokesman. The moves are part of the Navy’s transformation of forces in Europe.

Altogether, the changes will mean about 1,000 sailors and their family members are leaving the base this year, but they’re not all going at once. The move and disestablishments are being done in phases.

Starting in January this year, new VQ-2 personnel were being redirected to Whidbey Island, Luckett said. Orders for all permanently assigned VQ-2 members are being rewritten to move them to Whidbey Island by the end of the year.

“The majority will be moved during the summer to avoid disruption to family members and children in school,” Luckett said.

Even though the personnel aren’t all leaving at the same time, the impact is being felt around base, including at Rota’s Navy Exchange and commissary.

“Clearly it’s going to affect … sales,” said Navy Exchange general manager Gerald Outar. “Losing 17 percent [of your population] means we’re losing 17 percent of our sales.”

The status of forces agreement between Spain and the United States only allows base personnel and their family members to shop at the exchange and commissary. Retirees or even military personnel on leave in Spain can’t use the facilities.

“It’s just another difficult challenge we’ll face,” Outar said.

The disestabishment of the Naval Security Group Activity and Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Unit will cut about 330 base residents total.

AIMU, as its name implies, takes care of aircraft maintenance. NSGA, according to its Web site, provides communications support for the United States and its allies and conducts “research into electromagnetic phenomena.”

VQ-2 flies six of the EP-3E Aries II aircraft, which is a modified P-3 Orion that has special receivers and high-gain dish antennas to capture electronic signals for intelligence use.

VQ-2 provided reconnaissance support for NATO operations in the Balkans in the 1990s and participated in no-fly operations over Iraq in Operations Northern and Southern Watch, and its aircraft have deployed in support of both Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

VQ-2’s move to Whidbey will allow it to operate with its sister squadron, VQ-1.

The squadron will take more than 450 sailors and about 375 family members away from Rota, although its aircraft may return on a temporary basis.

“The squadron can … be surged to any part of the world [from Whidbey Island] swiftly and efficiently,” said Luckett. “Given that Naval Station Rota has an excellent airfield that traditionally hosts numerous U.S. military aircraft, we can expect that it will continue to be of use to our VQ aircraft for operational purposes.”

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