HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii --
Equipped with some of the Marine Corps’ most powerful heavy-lift cargo helicopters, Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 363 is able to provide Marines on the ground with the equipment and supplies needed to accomplish their mission.
The squadron, stationed at Marine Corps Air Facility Koneohe Bay, Hawaii, is part of Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
HMH-363 first deployed in 1965 to engage in combat missions during Vietnam.
During Operation Flying Tiger, the squadron developed a strong, positive relationship with the Republic of Korea.
Out of respect for the squadron, Korean Marines presented an award to HMH-363, and the squadron came to be known as the Lucky Red Lions.
Immediately after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, HMH-363 reestablished the West Pacific Unit Deployment Program and became the first helicopter squadron to deploy to Iwakuni, Japan in more than 10 years.
After numerous deployments and to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, the squadron continued to launch CH-53D Sea Stallions to support the Global War on Terror by participating in Lava Viper 2011.
Lava Viper is an annual pre-Afghanistan deployment exercise implemented to establish unit cohesion and squadron readiness in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The exercise is designed to replicate Mojave Viper scenarios for Marine Corps aviation forces in the Western Pacific.
The mission of HMH-363 is primarily to provide assault support aviation services to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, deployed to Pohakuloa Training Area, while simultaneously enhancing and sustaining MAG-24’s combat readiness, war-fighting capabilities and competencies.
“The operational tempo is certainly high right now,” said Capt. Olaitan Adesanya, HMH-363 pilot. “Fortunately, we haven’t had a lot of setbacks.”
According to Master Sgt. Kenneth McFadden, maintenance chief with HMH-363, supporting the Marines on the ground is vital to helping them get the qualifications they need during the exercise.
HMH-363 Marines are also slated to begin defensive squadron training to include practice with weapons on the ground.
“Besides supporting the infantry, which is our primary focus, we have our own training we are trying to accomplish during those two weeks at Lava Viper,” said Maj. Jeremy Deveau, maintenance officer with HMH-363.
According to Deveau, the training will build leadership and enhance training among the squadron.
In order to accomplish its mission, the squadron focuses primarily on working as a team.
“(Personnel) have to have a very good crew concept to function together,” said Mcfadden. “It takes different personalities and different ranks to work together.”
According to Adesanya, this task of working as a team has been met with great satisfaction.
"The Marines in the squadron are great," said Adesanya. "They have been working hard and making sure we get the aircraft up and flying."
According to Pfc. Joel Hancock, helicopter mechanic with HMH-363, working with the squadron has been a beneficial experience.
As a new member of the squadron, Hancock's main goal has been to learn as much as he can about his job and the responsibilities he will be tasked with.
"We try to find more experienced Marines to take us around the birds and help us with our qualifications," said Hancock. "The more knowledge, the better."
According to Deveau, what makes their squadron unique is not just the squadron itself but the aircraft it flies.
HMH-363 flies the Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion, equipped with twin-engines and the ability to lift 7 tons.
According to Hancock, their training has already prepared them for changes.
The third engine and seven-blade main rotor of the CH-53E Super Stallion makes it a more powerful aircraft, he said.
“It’s pretty fascinating,” said Hancock. “There’s a lot more technology and three of everything.”
The CH-53E can transport up to 55 troops or 30,000 pounds of cargo. Its external lift capability is 36,000 pounds.This means more cargo lift capability, more power and more mission readiness for the squadron.