News: East, West Coasts work under one hangar serving one mission
Story by Cpl. Derek Carlson
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – Each squadron of the Marine Corps aviation community has a rich history and die-hard pride of belonging. Taking this into consideration, putting two squadrons under one roof in the middle of the desert and expecting them to collaborate, does not sound like the best idea, however, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) has done just that.
The Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 “Flying Tigers” were reinforced by one of its sister squadrons from the East Coast, HMH-366, to ensure the squadron could meet the rigorous demands of a heavy lift rotary squadron. This reinforcement was necessary to compensate for the squadron’s reduced manpower, due to an HMH-361 detachment currently operating aboard the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The newly augmented squadron became officially known as HMH-361 (Reduced) (Reinforced).
The squadron, which operates under the HMH-361 (-) (Rein) flag, is now approximately composed of 50 percent HMH-361 and 50 percent HMH-366 Marines. The leadership of the squadron, as well as each individual section within the squadron, has been structured to equally represent personnel coming from both CH-53E Super Stallions squadrons.
“We had the opportunity to sit down with the staff and figure out who the main billet-holders were going to be, who would run the shops,” said Maj. Jacob Matt, the executive officer for HMH-361(-) (Rein). “Then we had to take these two squadrons, these two personalities, and mesh them together.”
Many of the Marines were unsure of what to expect when the merge began. Most of them assumed they would butt heads and their operational styles would conflict. Fortunately, under the “adapt and overcome” mindset, the Marines came together fluidly – gaining and growing the entire way.
“It was certainly a transition,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Caprett, an aviation technician for the HMH-361 “Flying Tigers.” “But there is a vast amount of knowledge to be learned from it. I’m able to take in the best of both squadrons and expand on it.”
The planning and development of this hybrid squadron can partially be attributed to lessons learned by their predecessor. HMH-466, who combined forces with HMH-464, was the first squadron to deploy here with two squadrons working as one.
By learning from the procedures of HMH-466 “Bigfoot,” the reinforced Flying Tigers were able to put a solid plan in motion before deploying, and stepped on deck ready to support International Security Assistance Forces throughout the region.
Since their transfer of authority, which took place here, Aug. 1, the squadron has supported countless operations by transporting more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo, 26,000 personnel and flying more than 3,100 flight hours. These accomplishments are a direct representation of the capabilities of the Super Stallion community collaborating to undertake a common mission.
HMH-361 (-) (Rein) will remain here for two months, when they will transfer authority to a third-generation reinforced Super Stallion squadron. Lt. Col. Douglass Glasgow, the commanding officer of HMH-361, said that despite the accomplishments of the squadron here, the Flying Tiger legacy will be measured by the success of future squadrons, not their own.
The reinforced Flying Tigers have formed an irreplaceable working relationship, but the Marines are anxious to return to their respective homes.
“The bonds and friendships these guys are making are incredible, but we can’t wait to go home,” said Matt. “We are going to separate coasts, but this is a small Marine Corps and within a year, we are all going to see each other again somewhere, somehow.”