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Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161 “Greyhawks,” fly over Los Angeles, May 19. Lt. Col. Andreas Lavato, commanding officer of VMM-161, conducted his last flight with the squadron prior to his change of command May 26. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens/Released)

Photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens

VMM-161 commanding officer completes last flight

23 May 2016 | Sgt. Lillian Stephens 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Every beginning has an end. For Lt. Col. Andreas Lavato, commanding officer of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161 “Greyhawks,” his time with the squadron began nearly two years ago in June 2014.

Lavato marked the symbolic end of his time as VMM-161’s commanding officer by completing one last flight with his Marines. Together, they took a section of two MV-22B Ospreys and flew to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Yosemite National Park in Northern California, May 18.

“The West Coast offers, by far, the best training areas in flying and the most congested and complicated airspaces of anywhere that I’ve ever operated,” said Lavato. “I’ve been flying for around 19 years now, maybe longer. I think [this] was probably my last flight in the Marine Corps as a pilot.”

Lavato’s career, which began on the infamous yellow footprints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S. C., progressed from enlisted, to officer, to pilot and, most recently, to commanding officer.

As a commander, Lavato saw the Marines in his squadron work together, celebrate together and, at times, he saw them grieve together.

“Command was the first time in my career where there was physically too much going on to master every aspect of it,” said Lavato. “My reliance of the Marines around me, reminded me … that it’s never about yourself, that it’s always about the people you surround yourself with. That was one of the interesting things about command, I was surrounded by truly exceptional people.”

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