CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – First deployed during the Vietnam War, the CH-53D helicopter made its final flight in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 16.
For the “Ugly Angels” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), being a part of the final flight that ended a legacy in Marine aviation came with mixed emotions.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s a step forward,” said Lt. Col. Christopher “Ollie” Oliver, the commanding officer of HMH-362 and a pilot for the final mission. “We sent this aircraft out on a high note and if it had to go out, it might as well have gone out in a combat zone.”
The squadron first started using the CH-53D Sea Stallion during 1969 and has since participated in combat and humanitarian operations around the world.
“I feel honored to have served in this aircraft and to have seen it come full circle in the Middle East,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael A. Schram, HMH-362 CH-53D crew chief and a member of the final flight. “I flew with this aircraft when it first came into Iraq and to be on the last flight in Afghanistan makes this a sad but good day. It brought an end to something great and I hope that we gave closure to the legacy that the Marines in Vietnam started.”
Although the final flight for the squadron was of a routine nature, it held a deeper meaning for those onboard.
“I took the (name) patches for my fallen brothers from Irontail 06 that had crashed in January,” said Cpl. Kyle M. Taylor, crew chief HMH-362 for the CH-53D and a member of the final flight. “I was honored to be on the last flight and take them and their memory on that flight one last time.”
For the Hawaii-based squadron, some of the fondest memories of their time on the CH-53D were of the Marines who made the success of the helicopter and the squadron possible.
“The experience of working on it,” Taylor explained. “And the people that came along with the aircraft were the best part of the job. From day one checking in, you already felt like family. Although we will go our separate ways, there will always be an inseparable bond between the people that have been a part of the aircraft.”
Working with an aircraft that can take approximately 20 hours of maintenance per flight hour can be a challenge. A challenge that the “Ugly Angels” have taken in stride throughout the years.
“The Marines have done an amazing job maintaining these aircraft,” Oliver said. “I mean, most of the Marines working on them are half the age of the helicopter they’re working on. But it goes to show you if you give Marines something they’re going to take care of it and the Marines have kept these up and running for over 40 years.”
As the squadron turns the page of Marine aviation history and looks forward to the future, the heritage of the CH-53D will live on by those that knew it best.
“The part of this aircraft that will live on forever comes from those that have done our jobs, from those that gave their lives doing our jobs,” Taylor said. “They will not be forgotten as they were here as a part of this day and joined us in spirit.”