For nearly a quarter-century, members of the airborne electronic attack squadron VAQ-209 have launched their jets from this air base in Prince George's County for deployments over Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Earlier this month, Navy Cmdr. James King and Lt. Cmdr. Justin Van Hoose climbed into the cockpits of the squadron's last two EA-6B Prowlers for a final flight before the squadron moves this summer from Maryland to the West Coast.

The Navy has ordered the squadron — the only one of its kind staffed by reservists — to join the dozen active-duty squadrons at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State.

As an airborne electronic attack squadron, VAQ-209 flies into war zones to jam enemy radar so bombers and fighter aircraft can perform their missions.

The relocation, which was announced last year over the objections of Maryland's U.S. senators, amounts to a rare loss for the state.

With its proximity to Washington, its long-established military installations and its robust defense industry, Maryland has more often been the beneficiary of recent realignment decisions, as lawmakers and defense officials have sought to concentrate commands and elements that share similar functions.

That approach has led leaders to consolidate research, testing and development at Aberdeen Proving Ground, biological warfare at Fort Detrick, and information systems, intelligence and cyberwarfare at Fort Meade, among other examples.

It has also led the Navy to order VAQ-209 to Whidbey Island, where the reservists will join their active-duty counterparts in transitioning from the EA-6B Prowler to the faster, more powerful EA-18G Growler.

Cmdr. Casey Casad, commanding officer of the squadron, called the move to the new aircraft "a wonderful opportunity that the Navy is making available to VAQ-209" — and recognition of the reservists' contributions during 12 combat deployments in the past 15 years.

Reservists are service members who typically have other, civilian careers, but meet periodically to drill and may be called to active duty. They have been activated frequently during the past decade.

"Generally, the reserves are given bottom-of-the-barrel equipment," Casad said. "They are given the scraps left over that the fleet's no longer using. In this instance, the Navy is making an opportunity for its reserve force to get front-line, top-level technology equipment in front of many fleet units."

Given that plan, Casad said, the move to Whidbey Island "was in the taxpayers' best interest."

"It's too logistically expensive to keep one squadron on this side of the country when the other 12 squadrons and all of the support infrastructure for them are over there," he said. "This was entirely, purely, a business-case analysis."

The job of VAQ-209 is to "deny, degrade or destroy" enemy air defenses. The self-styled Star Warriors interfere with enemy communications, jam aircraft-identifying radar, and fire missiles at defense systems to open airspace for friendly forces.

VAQ-209 formed at Naval Air Station Norfolk in Virginia in 1977, the year of the first "Star Wars" movie. The first members called themselves the Star Warriors, and secured permission from producer George Lucas to use the image of Darth Vader in their insignia.

The squadron arrived at Andrews in 1989 and began flying the Prowler. In the 1990s, members helped to enforce both the northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq and flew missions over Bosnia.

More recently, they have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and stand ready to deploy wherever they might be called.

They leave Andrews having flown more than 36,000 hours of what the Navy calls Class A mishap-free operations: No casualties, no crashes, no major problems.

Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski had asked Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert to leave VAQ-209 at Andrews. The Maryland Democrats were joined in the effort by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a former member of the squadron.

Mikulski called the Navy's decision "short-sighted and misguided." Cardin said he was "sad" to see the squadron go.