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Staff Sgt. Israel Arredondo, an aviation ordnance technician with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, holds his daughter Katarina, after arriving at the air station, during his squadron's homecoming, August 9. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)(Released)

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

‘Flying Tigers’ arrive home after deployment

9 Aug 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

Cheers and shouts of joy from families and friends nearly drowned out the sound of a passenger jet as it taxied down the air station flight line transporting their Marines and sailors Aug. 9 night.

Personnel from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16 returned from a five-month deployment in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

More than 200 Marines and sailors provided around-the-clock support for more than a dozen aircraft from HMH-361, also known as the “Flying Tigers,” throughout their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Flying Tigers accumulated almost 3,000 flight hours and lifted more than 700 tons of equipment. The air crew spent those hours transporting NATO forces, lifting supplies and carrying heavy equipment. The Marines deployed in February, after spending seven months home from their last deployment in 2008.

“It was an incredibly successfully deployment,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey S. Chestney, the commanding officer of HMH-361. “We brought everyone back home and we brought the planes back better than when we first got them. The amount of hours put into each day by each Marine during the deployment was inspiring.”

The squadron operated with increased use of the CH-53E as other helicopter squadrons re-deployed from Iraq. HMH-361 was also the last squadron to fly out of two forward operating bases before they closed, as part of the coalition draw down of forces.

“The homecoming makes the deployment worth it, and having a wife to come back to makes it sweeter,” said Sgt. Matthew Shiver, a crew chief with the Flying Tigers.

Families and friends of the service members welcomed them home with signs, flags and cheers as they stepped off the plane. After checking their weapons and gathering their gear, the Marines reunited with their friends and families.

“It feels fabulous to have my other half back home,” said Colby Hunt, wife of Cpl. Robert Hunt, an avionics technician with the Flying Tigers. “I am excited too, because he came home in time for our anniversary in two weeks.” The squadrons will take a two-week rest and recuperation period before they resume their work.

The squadrons will continue training and honing skills to support the missions of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing as other squadrons take their place in the Global War on Terror.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing