Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 268 (HML-268) was activated on 15 September 1972 at Marine Corps Air Station, New River, North Carolina. The mission of the squadron was to provide utility combat helicopter support to the landing force in ship-to-shore movement and in subsequent operations ashore.
By 31 December 1972, the squadron was able to achieve full aircraft utilization, flying a total of 707 accident-free hours in support of 2d Marine Aircraft Wing with an average on board strength of seven UH-1N aircraft. From February to March 1973, HML-268 made its first squadron deployment to NAS Atlanta for mountain area training. From 27 March to 10 April 1973, HML-268 participated in Operation EXOTIC DANCER VI with aircraft aboard the USS Iwo Jima and at Bogue Field, North Carolina. HML-268 participated in Exercise SOLID SHIELD from 25 May to 6 June 1975. During the period 27 July to 9 August, the squadron deployed to Mosby Army Airfield (AAF), Dahlonega, Georgia, for mountain area training. The following year, HML-268 returned to Mosby AAF to continue its mountain area training. During HML-268’s initial commission, it executed numerous VIP transport missions, participated in many training exercises and detached personnel and aircraft in support of various units deployed around the globe. HML-268 was decommissioned on 30 September 1977.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 (HMM-268) was reactivated on 1 March 1979 at Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, California, and became operational on 1 May 1979. The squadron was designated for medium lift and equipped with CH-46D helicopters. In December 1979, HMM-268 was successfully evaluated by 3d MAW at a MCCRE in Yuma, Arizona, and by its performance, earned its “Combat Ready” status. Slowly, its 3d Marine Aircraft Wing operational responsibilities increased as it soon would enter the Unit Deployment Program in March of 1980.
HMM-268 deployed under the Unit Deployment Program on 22 February 1980 to MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, replacing HMM-164. During that period, the squadron sent detachments to Atsugi, Japan, and Yechon, Korea, while also conducting pilot carrier qualifications. At this time, the squadron was the first in the Marine Corps to deploy with female Marines aboard.
Upon its relief by HMM-161, HMM-268 had successfully completed its first Western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment and returned to MCAS Tustin on 31 August 1980. On 29 December 1980, HMM-268 received its first CH-46E model aircraft. A high tempo of operations was maintained through the 10,000 accident-free flight hour milestone, which the squadron attained on 18 September 1981. Additionally, during this period, the Red Dragons were the recipients of their first Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Safety Award.
On 1 March 1982, the Marines of HMM-268 departed Tustin for the squadron’s second overseas deployment to MCAS Futenma on Okinawa, Japan. The squadron returned to Tustin in September 1982.
Upon returning to the United States, the squadron was officially designated as the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing’s “Night Assault Squadron.” Within ninety days of designation, the “Night Raiders” of HMM-268 implemented an aggressive Night Vision Goggle (NVG) program. On 15 March 1984, HMM-268 departed MCAS Tustin for its third overseas deployment to Japan.
HMM-268 returned to Tustin on 15 September 1984. After an intense work-up period, the squadron departed from San Diego on 16 January 1986 for a six-month WESTPAC shipboard deployment. The squadron conducted numerous exercises while deployed with the 11th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU). The Red Dragons returned to MCAS Tustin on 16 July 1986, and operational control was transferred to MAG-16 on 25 July.
On 1 December 1990, while assigned as the Aviation Combat Element of the 11th MEU(SOC), HMM-268 responded to the Persian Gulf Crisis. Embarked on the USS New Orleans and deployed with MAG-50, 5th MEB(SOC), the Red Dragons supported Operation DESERT SHIELD. En route to the Persian Gulf, the Red Dragons completed, for the first time ever, the NVG shipboard carrier qualification syllabus. The Red Dragons also pioneered and flew the first Low Light Level NVG carrier qualifications. On 14 February 1991, the squadron celebrated its five-year Class A mishap-free milestone and was awarded its third CNO Safety Award.
During Operation DESERT STROM, HMM-268 moved ashore and provided combat assault support to the 5th MEB, including the “G-Day” tactical insertion of 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, along the Saudi Arabian/Kuwaiti border. The squadron flew over 450 hours in a seven-day period. At the conflict’s conclusion, the squadron supported I MEF from Taajib, Saudi Arabia.
In April 1991, the squadron re-embarked aboard the USS New Orleans as the ACE for the 11th MEU(SOC) and continued its Southwest Asia deployment. The MEU supported National Command Authority objectives in the Persian Gulf until returning to the United States in August 1991 where it was recognized with its fourth CNO Safety Award.
In September 1993, the Red Dragons again deployed to the Western Pacific with the 13th MEU(SOC) and were directed to Mogadishu, Somalia, to support Operation RESTORE HOPE II. HMM-268 supported numerous VIP visits, MEU(SOC) missions and United Nations humanitarian missions. The squadron returned to California in March 1994 and in July was designated the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Medium-Lift Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 1994. Furthermore at this time, the squadron received the first of five consecutive CNO Safety Awards running from 1994 to 1998.
The Red Dragons moved from MCAS El Toro to MCAS Camp Pendleton in February of 1999 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Congressional tasking. They departed on 14 March 2001 as MAG-39’s first Air Combat Element (ACE) for the 11th MEU(SOC). The squadron supported Humanitarian Operations in East Timor, lifting several hundred tons of needed goods to its people. The squadron participated in Operations EAGER MACE with the Kuwaiti Armed Services and RED REEF with the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces. Due to increasing terrorist threats in theater, Operation INFINITE MOONLIGHT was cancelled, and all 11th MEU(SOC) forces retrograded aboard the USS Boxer.
Following HMM-268’s return to the U.S. on 13 September 2001, the squadron was removed from the deployment cycle and recognized with its tenth CNO Safety Award. However, this did not slow the pace of operations. The squadron participated in two deployments to Yuma, Arizona, a CAX in April of 2002, and a deployment to Davis-Monthan AFB in order to accomplish joint Combat Search and Rescue and defensive measures training with the Air Force.
In July of 2002, the Red Dragons reacquainted themselves with boat operations during a deployment aboard the USS Boxer, which was immediately followed by Urban CAX at Victorville, California. In September, the Red Dragons conducted Exercise SEA HORSE WIND at 29 Palms. Later in the month, the squadron sent a detachment to Bridgeport, California, to conduct high-altitude and mountain-area training.
In January 2003, HMM-268 learned that it would deploy to Kuwait in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. On 9 March 2003, the main body of the squadron embarked on commercial charter out of March AFRB under MAG-39. In March, ENDURING FREEDOM transitioned to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Red Dragons distinguished themselves by their tireless combat assault support and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) operations throughout the area of operations, returning in September 2003.
HMM-268’s down time was brief as they quickly transitioned into training for their next deployment. During this time of continuous high tempo operations, HMM-268 earned another CNO Safety Award, bringing its total to eleven. In August of 2004, HMM-268 deployed again to Iraq in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II. Under MAG-16, the Red Dragons provided CASEVAC support to I MEF in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, including support during the Fallujah offensive Operation PHANTOM FURY and helped secure Iraq’s first national elections in over 35 years. While based in Iraq, the Red Dragons conducted 816 CASEVACs before returning home in March 2005.
Upon their return, the Red Dragons began training immediately, participating in a TACRON to 29 Palms in August and a training detachment to Creech AFB, Nevada, in October. HMM-268 participated in Exercise DESERT TALON held at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, in December. HMM-268 was designated the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Medium-Lift Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 2005.
HMM-268 deployed under MAG-16 in February of 2006 in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM 05-07.1. Once in theater at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Al Taqaddum, Iraq, HMM-268 provided CASEVAC support in the Al Anbar Province once again, flying both raids and general support missions for I MEF. The Red Dragons flew 5,878 hours and performed 583 CASEVACs. The squadron returned to Camp Pendleton in September 2006 where they received their twelfth CNO Safety Award.
The Red Dragons conducted a TACRON to MCAF El Centro, California, in January 2007, and a squadron training deployment called DRAGON FAJR to Yuma, Arizona, in May 2007. The squadron remained through June to participate in Exercise DESERT TALON. From September 2007 to March 2008, the Red Dragons supported both MAG-29 and MAG-16 (Reinforced) under both 2d and 3d MAW in support of the Multi-National Force-West’s Area of Operations once again from FOB Al Taqaddum. In November, the squadron received the 2007 Department of the Navy Aviation Safety Excellence Award. During the deployment, the Red Dragons flew over 6,200 hours while conducting numerous Helicopter Governance, medical support, combat resupply and troop lift missions and surpassed 25,000 mishap-free flight hours. Their efforts greatly contributed to the newly-termed Al Anbar Awakening, which referred to the successful political stabilization and governmental restructuring that occurred during HMM-268’s time in the province. The Red Dragons returned to Camp Pendleton in March 2008, and in April, the squadron was awarded its thirteenth CNO Safety Award.
The squadron held a Change of Command Ceremony for Col Gamelin and LtCol Bufton on 6 June. From 27 June to 17 July, the Dragons were tasked by 3d MAW to provide two helicopters and three newly-trained fire bucket crews to support Operation WILDLAND FIREFIGHTING (OWFF). Based out of NAS Lemoore near Fresno, CA, the crews were on a 12-hour standby schedule and provided three days of on station support at the Oliver Fire thirty miles north of Fresno. In December 2008, HMM-268 detached to Yuma, AZ, for Desert Talon 1-09, in order to train for the upcoming deployment.
In March 2009, the Red Dragons deployed for the fifth time in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. HMM-268 launched over 5,437 combat sorties and flew 4,655.7 mishap free flight hours while safely transporting 9,495 passengers and more than 280,037 pounds of cargo in support of Multi-National Forces-West.
Following the Red Dragons’ final deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, HMM-268 was presented with the Edward C. Dyer Award for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 2009 as well as the CNO Aviation Safety Award. The squadron began a long dwell period as it prepared for its first MEU deployment in almost a decade. From June through August of 2010, HMM-268 deployed six aircraft aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard for the Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2010(RIMPAC). In January of 2011, the squadron deployed to MCAGCC Twentynine Palms for Mojave Viper 3-11 and sent a detachment to the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, CA, beginning its training for the upcoming deployment with the 11th MEU.
In the spring of 2011 the Red Dragons began receiving their MEU detachments and the squadron would be the first deployment of the AH-1Z as HMM-268(REIN). In May of 2011 the Red Dragons chopped to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and began the MEU work-up cycle. HMM-268(REIN) deployed aboard the USS Makin Island and USS New Orleans on November 14th of 2011. While deployed, the Red Dragons participated in seven Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) exercises in Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman. In addition to TSC, HMM-268(REIN) conducted bilateral and unilateral training in Djibouti as well as supported several national tasking missions. Throughout the seven month deployment the Red Dragons flew 4,029 mishap-free flight hours with six different Type//Model/Series aircraft, supported the movement of 5,700 passengers and 878,265 pounds of cargo, and maintained an average of 80% mission capable readiness.
Upon return from the MEU deployment, LtCol Blair turned over the colors of the squadron to LtCol Peterson in a change of command ceremony held on July 13th, 2012. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Red Dragons’ history as the squadron continued to maintain readiness while preparing for transition.