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Red Line

Greyhawks celebrate 55th birthday in Iraq
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 2006119113030
Story by Cpl. Cullen J. Tiernan

Red Line

AL TAQQADUM, Iraq (Jan. 19, 2006) — The Greyhawks of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 spent their 55th birthday supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom at Al Taqqadum, Iraq, January 15.

HMM-161, known as "The First," was the Marine Corps' first tactical helicopter squadron. Established Jan. 15, 1951, the Greyhawks deployed in support of the Korean War two months later. At Al Taqqadum, they fly CH-46 Sea Knights and respond to urgent casualty evacuations and provide general support for the ground combat element near Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq.

“Our squadron has seen combat in every major conflict the Marine Corps has been involved with since the Korean War,” said Capt. Mateo Salas, a CH-46 pilot with HMM-161 and a Hacienda Heights, Calif., native. “We were the first Marine Corps squadron ever to deploy troops in a combat zone utilizing helicopters.”

Continuing their history in Iraq, the Greyhawks are preparing to surpass 50,000 mishap-free flight hours.

“This accomplishment is a testament to the hard work of all the Marines in the squadron,” said Maj. Allen Gilbert, a CH-46 pilot with the Greyhawks, the squadron’s director of safety and an Anamosa, Iowa, native. “Despite challenges, we’re getting the mission accomplished. We flew 12 Casevacs in a single day, helping move Iraqi civilians after a suicide bombing, sometimes with five on a single bird. It’s a proud feeling knowing everyone in the squadron’s regard for getting the mission done safely.”

This is the Greyhawks third deployment in support of OIF. Gilbert said the Greyhawks have had a very significant impact, saving lives and moving troops and captured insurgents while in a combat environment.

“It’s nice to know we have been successfully executing the same mission this long,” said Capt. Mark Fitzsimmons, a CH-46 pilot with HMM-161 and a San Diego native, on his first deployment with the Greyhawks. “It’s amazing the Marines are able to keep the 46s flying flawlessly. It’s an old aircraft, with a great deal of history, but it’s performing well accomplishing our mission here.”

Fitzsimmons credits the squadron’s continued success to the dedication of all the Greyhawks.

“We have a tradition of success,” said Fitzsimmons. “Since the beginning of the squadron, skilled Marines have passed their knowledge and expertise to new Marines, and from Casevac missions, to night raids, there are many rewarding moments for the Marines’ hard work.”

Lance Cpl. Joe Berry, a CH-46 crew chief with the Greyhawks and Missoula, Mont., native, flew on the helicopter raid, and was part of transporting 17 detainees from Ramadi.

“It was unbelievable seeing that many birds flying in unison,” said Berry. “Everyone in the squadron was a part of it. From the mechanics to the flyers, it takes everyone working long hours for helicopter raids to be successful, and for us to be near 50,000 mishap free hours.”

Berry said it feels good flying on CASEVAC missions. He said without the Greyhawks, the wounded might not get the medical attention they need.

“I go to sleep at night looking forward to the next day, because I might help save someone’s life” said Berry. “As a crew chief, I keep a scan during missions and make sure we don’t come under fire. If we do, I suppress it, or we maneuver out of it.”

Berry said the airframes on the CH-46 he flies are the same that flew through the skies of Vietnam.

“You know those aircraft have seen a lot,” said Berry. “They have maneuvered out of missiles, been hit by rounds, carried a lot of patients and moved a lot of troops. I’m proud to be a part of their history today and future tomorrow.”

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Updated: 12 January 2008
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Born on 19 January 2006