CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – It was after midnight, yet there was an undeniable energy in the air as the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 personnel gathered outside their squadron offices aboard Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, for their transfer of authority ceremony May 15.
HMLA-469 “Vengeance” smoothly and quietly assumed command of light attack helicopter squadron duties from the HMLA-369 “Gunfighters” in the middle of the night, with only a few minutes of ceremony before beginning combat operations for the first time in their history.
The following morning, Lance Cpl. Dean Ray, a Vengeance crew chief and Stockton, Calif., native, emanated the same nervous excitement echoing around the squadron. Like Vengeance, he is on his first deployment.
“I like the idea of going forward maybe 30 years from now, when I’m out [of the military] and going back to the squadron… knowing I was a part of what made [the squadron], the history and the lore of it,” said Ray.
Ray and his fellow crew chiefs chattered busily throughout their first flight of the day – a close-air-support mission for two CH-53D Sea Stallions transporting passengers. They discussed landmarks and buildings to watch out for, the key terrain features and the steps to take to ensure positive identification of enemy forces. These are the details they will need to reinforce every time they fly across southwestern Afghanistan.
“I love this job,” said Ray with a very large grin. “I’ve always wanted to be a crew chief.”
His desire to become a crew chief coincided with the formation of the squadron. Ray has been with Vengeance since its inception in 2009.
The squadron gets its menacing name due to the reason for its creation. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Marine Corps officials called for an increase in the number of light and utility helicopters for use in combat, explained Lt. Col. Stephen Lightfoot, the Vengeance commanding officer and Perry, Okla., native.
In 2009, Vengeance was born, the eighth and final light attack helicopter squadron in the Marine Corps.
Vengeance began with only about 100 Marines and five aircraft. They trained and worked tirelessly to become the combat-ready squadron on the Camp Bastion flight line today.
Compared to squadrons like the Gunfighters, whose history dates back to the Vietnam War, Vengeance is a young squadron with big shoes to fill.
“I’m hoping to accomplish saving lives and building a good history for this squadron to stand on,” said Ray, after his flight.
Lightfoot added that while the squadron itself may be young, many of the Marines who compose the squadron are experienced combat veterans.
“These aircraft are very capable and these Marines are very capable,” said Lightfoot. “This deployment right now is creating history for this squadron. It’s going to be written and remembered that way, what we do here…I have the utmost confidence we’re going to have a very successful deployment because of the Marines in this squadron.”
After completing their first close-air-support flight of the day, Ray and the rest of the flight crew took a short break before prepping for their next mission.
“It was a good day,” said Ray, still smiling.