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SIGONELLA, Sicily — Patrol Squadron Eight is wrapping up an eventful six-month deployment to Sigonella.

For the first time, the squadron’s P-3 Orion turboprop aircraft came under fire while surveying enemy troop movements in Iraq.

Sailors flew operations over the Balkans, did surveillance operations near Liberia and searched for potential terrorist camps in countries in the eastern Mediterranean. At one time, the squadron had planes in five different countries, said VP8’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Robert Dishman.

Six stateside Orion squadrons rotate six-month deployments to Sigonella.

“We feel pretty lucky to have been the squadron in place when this [war] happened,” said Lt. Cmdr. Art Gibb, 36, VP8 operations officer.

Over the next week, the VP8 “Fighting Tigers” are returning to Brunswick, Maine, and turning over operations at Sigonella to the VP45 “Pelicans” from Jacksonville, Fla.

During some of the 100 surveillance missions VP8 flew over Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, their 116-foot long aircraft came under anti-aircraft fire, a first for the squadron whose primary mission is anti-submarine warfare.

“I think it gave everybody involved kind of an eye-opening perspective in the importance of what we do,” said Gibb, from Annapolis, Md.

Crews put in long hours during the war. A crew’s maximum airtime is 180 hours a month, said Lt. j.g. Christian Parilla, 25, public affairs officer from Fairfax, Va.

“We were just shy of that,” he said. “With such old planes, we’re very lucky our planes held up. Our maintainers did an awesome job.”

Squadron members said that while the many deployments kept them busy, they were looking forward to returning home.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Dustin Parrish, 22, an aviation mechanic from Lockhart, Texas, couldn’t wait to see how much his 4-year-old daughter had grown since February.

“Last I heard she could reach the light switch,” he said with a smile on his face.

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