Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (VMM-161) was commissioned on 15 January 1951 at MCAS El Toro, California as Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161), the Marine Corps’ FIRST tactical helicopter squadron. Moving to Santa Ana, California the following month, HMR-161 began to receive and train with their new aircraft, the Sikorsky HRS-1.
Deploying to Korea in August of 1951, HMR-161 operated on the west central and western fronts as the FIRST Marine helicopter squadron to deploy troops in combat. HMR-161 conducted the first tactical helicopter troop lift in history on 21 September 1951 and the first night troop lift on 28 September. In Korea, the FIRST was a leader in night and marginal weather operations, starting a legacy of support to Marines on the ground that has continued for over fifty five years.
Following the Korean War, the squadron was relocated to Kaneohe bay, Hawaii in March 1955 where it continued to develop and exercise the beginnings of our current air-ground concept.
On 31 December 1956, the squadron was re-designated Marine Transport Squadron (Light) 161 (HMR(L)-161). Beginning in May of 1960, the squadron received the new Sikorsky H-34 helicopter. In February of 1962, the squadron was re-designated as Helicopter as Helicopter Marine Medium 161 (HMM-161) and continued anti-guerilla training in prepration for contingency operations in Vietnam.
During May of 1965, HMM-161 deployed to Phu Bai in the Republic of Vietnam, participating in numerous combat operations until redeploying out of Vietnam to MCAS Futenma, Okinawa. The squadron remained there until January 1966 to receive its new and current aircraft type, the Boeing Vertol CH-46 “Sea Knight,” affectionately referred to as the “PHROG.”
From Futenma, HMM-161 returned to the Republic of Vietnam in 1966, operating from Da Nang and then Phu Bai until being relocated in December of 1966 to MCAS(H) New River, North Carolina. HMM-161 deployed a third time to Vietnam during May of 1968, operating first from Quang Tri and then from Phu Bai until September of 1970. The squadron then returned to its first home, Santa Ana, California.
On 29 August 1978, HMM-161 became the FIRST helicopter squadron to deploy to MCAS Futenma, Okinawa under the Unit Deployment Program (UDP). The squadron returned to MCAS(H) Tustin, California on 28 February 1979. HMM-161 made three more UDP deployments to Okinawa in the early 1980s: September 1980 to February 1981, September 1982 to February 1983, and August 1984 to February 1985.
In 1986, HMM-161 entered into the Marine Amphibious (later Expeditionary) Unit training and deployment cycle, making a first Western Pacific (WestPac) Deployment embarked aboard the USS TARAWA from 19 June 1986 to 19 December 1986. On 8 October 1987, HMM-161 embarked a detachment aboard the USS OKINAWA to the Arabian Gulf, returning on 6 April 1988. And, on 12 January 1989, HMM-161 embarked aboard the USS BELLEAU WOOD for another WestPac deployment, returning on 18 June 1989. In August 1989, HMM-161 deployed a detachment on the USS DULUTH to Prince William Sound, Alaska, in support of the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean up operations, returning on 18 June 1989. On 17 August 1990, HMM-161 deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation DESERT SHIELD. The squadron flew numerous combat missions in support of U.S. and Allied Forces during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, returning to Tustin on 14 March 1991.
After the Gulf War, HMM-161 returned to the MEU cycle, completing deployments aboard the USS TARAWA from March to November 1992 and aboard the USS ESSEX from October 1994 to April 1995. Additionally, from 29 January 1995 to 4 March 1995, HMM-161 participated in Operation UNITED SHIELD in Somalia.
On 24 March 1997, HMM-161 embarked aboard the USS BOXER for another MEU deployment, which included combat missions in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, enforcing the “No Fly Zone” in Southern Iraq. The squadron returned to El Toro on 23 September 1997.
HMM-161 completed another MEU deployment embarked aboard the USS TARAWA from 14 August 2000 to 14 February 2001. During this deployment, the Greyhawks supported humanitarian assistance operations in East Timor and Operation DETERMINED RESPONSE in Yemen following the terrorist attack on the USS COLE. For its performance from 1 May 2000 to 30 April 2001, HMM-161 earned the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Edward C. Dyer Award as the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 2001.
HMM-161 embarked aboard the USS TARAWA for another MEU deployment on 6 January 2003, arriving in the Arabian Gulf to participate in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM I under the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. As part of the 15th MEU, the Greyhawks conducted the assault on the port of Umm Qasr in the opening hours of the invasion of Iraq and remained in theater conducting various combat missions from March to June 2003, returning to Miramar on 12 July 2003.
Following an abbreviated work-up, HMM-161 returned to Iraq in February 2004 for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II where the Greyhawks served as the primary Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) and VIP squadron for I MEF based at Al Taqqadum, Iraq. The Greyhawks returned to California on 6 September 2004. For its performance in OIF I and OIF II, HMM-161 was again recognized as the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Edward C. Dyer Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 2004.
In August 2005, the squadron again deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Greyhawks provided around the clock CASEVAC and helicopter Assault Support in the Al Anbar Province flying some 5,100 combat hours and maintaining a perfect mission and safety record. The squadron returned from Iraq on 4 March 2006 and was subsequently awarded the CNO Safety Award and the Marine Corps Association’s 2006 Commandant’s Aviation Award.
The Greyhawks were called upon yet again to deploy to Al Taqaddum, Iraq in February 2007; the fourth deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The squadron continued the 24-hour CASEVAC and Helicopter Assault Support mission for the Marines of II MEF. The “BELL” was silent during the 15 September 2007 Transfer of Authority as HMM-161 was the last Marine squadron to perform the dedicated CASEVAC mission in Al Anbar. The squadron had completed a flawless deployment flying over 5,100 combat flight hours, performing 945 CASEVAC missions, and executing every task without aircraft damage due to mishap or enemy action.
September 2008 saw the Greyhawks deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM 08.2 in Al Taqaddum, Iraq and Al Asad Airbase. The squadron was again awarded the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Edward C. Dyer Award as the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 2009, the Pete Ross Aviation Safety Award and its seventh consecutive CNO Safety Award. The Greyhawk’s return to MCAS Miramar on 14 April 2009 marked the bittersweet end to HMM-161’s illustrious history as a Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron, and began the transition to the first West Coast Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron; VMM-161.
VMM-161 completed its transition to the MV-22 Osprey and became a fully functional tiltrotor squadron in Aprill 2011. In July 2012, VMM-161 became the first west coast Osprey squadron to deploy when it headed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The squadron completed the deployment and returned to MCAS Miramar in January 2013, having completed over 2,200 flight hours, over 100 named operations, and suffering zero mishaps.