Photo Information

Marines in formation stand at attention during the transfer-of-authority ceremony at Al Asad, Iraq, Oct. 7. Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), assumed the responsibilities of assault support from HMH-463, MAG-16.

Photo by Cpl. James B. Hoke

HMH-363 assumes role of assault support in Iraq

12 Oct 2006 | Cpl. James B. Hoke

The Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 turned their mission over to the Marines with HMH-363 Oct. 7 in Al Asad.

The squadrons' mission is to provide assault support, which encompasses everything from moving cargo, supplies and passengers to supporting raids in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

The Pegasus Marines of HMH-463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), came to Iraq in the early days of April this year as the first full CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter squadron to deploy to Iraq.

"The Marines have exceeded every expectation that I had," said Lt. Col. Randel W. Parker, commanding officer, HMH-463. "They've supported every mission that was handed down to them. We flew close to 4,000 hours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, moved more than 2.3 million pounds of cargo and hauled more than 24,000 passengers, while maintaining an average mission capable readiness rate of 89 percent.

"We've done our deployment out here," the 44-year-old native of Littleton, Colo., added. "It's time to get these Marines and sailors back home to see their families, friends and loved ones."

The Marines with HMH-463 focused on more than just their mission while in the war-torn country. They focused on preparing the Red Lions for the work that the arriving squadron would be undertaking in its seven-month deployment.

"It helps a lot of the Marines to know or know of the Marines that are taking over," said Sgt. Maj. Karl Villalino, sergeant major, HMH-463, and a 37-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native. "A lot of them have communicated with each other prior to their arrival here, giving the incoming squadron a heads up on what to expect."

With the proper planning and constant communication, the turnover between the two squadrons went smoothly, according to Lt. Col. Allen D. Broughton, commanding officer, HMH-363, MAG-16.

"It was great doing the turnover with Pegasus," said Broughton, a 41-year-old native of Lemoore, Calif. "They are a great squadron. They set the bar very high, but we are not looking to break any of their records. We're just looking at accomplishing the mission out here.

"The first things are mission accomplishment and safe operations both in the air and on the ground," the graduate of Fresno State University added. "We have to maintain a high level of readiness in both personnel and aircraft, and we have to be ready at a moment's notice when required."

Although the Marines are still adapting through the jet lag of coming out to the desert and are loaded down with their new jobs and requirements in the war zone, they are glad to be serving their country, according to Broughton.

"They are very excited to be here," he said. "They are actually very excited that HMH-463 is leaving, and the mission is now ours. They are excited to go out there on their own and fly the missions."

"We have an extremely young squadron compared to HMH-463, but even with some of our older Marines, it's their first tour to Iraq," said Sgt. Maj. Roy H. Smith, sergeant major, HMH-363, and a 43-year-old native of Inglewood, Calif. "There is only a small percentage of our Marines who have been here before, but the Marines are always excited. We've had quite a few Marines extend just to be out here with us."

As the sun begins to set on HMH-463's stay in the desert, HMH-363 Marines feel confident that they can pick up the reins where the Pegasus Marines left off, according to Smith.

"We are going to continue what HMH-463 started," the Morningside High School graduate concluded. "We will maintain good support to the Marines on the ground. Ultimately, my goal is to leave here with the same amount of Marines and sailors that I came here with, walking away the same way they arrived."