HMR(L)-163, the predecessor to HMM-163, was formed in December of 1951. Since that time, its Marines, Sailors and aircraft have flown in continuous support of the United States and Allied operations throughout the Pacific and Central Command Theaters. The squadron's nickname, "Ridge Runners", was bestowed as a result of typhoon rescue and relief operations in the mountainous terrain surrounding Hagman, Japan.
From February to October 1965, the HMM-163 "Ridge Runners" helicopter squadron became famous for its operations in Vietnam. It was due to a LIFE magazine story that appeared in the 16 April 1965 issue. The story documented the combat death of a Marine H-34 pilot, 1stLt James E. Magel, and the rescue of wounded and paralyzed 1stLt Dale Eddy during a strike mission transporting South Vietnamese troops. For most U.S. citizens, this was the first time they were made aware of the extent of America's involvement in Vietnam.
In December 1965, LtCol Charles A. House took the reigns of the squadron, newly relocated at MCAS Futema, Okinawa. With only one month separating HMM-163 from its return deployment to Viet Nam, LtCol House and his veteran pilots determined that a unit symbol was needed to build morale and espirit d'corps, especially for the newly assigned replacement personnel.
Capt Al Barbe, the Squadron Intelligence Officer and husband to a Thai bride, offered a suggestion. Because of Asian culture and beliefs, he proposed that eyes painted on the unit aircraft might have an unsettling affect upon the enemy, thus the concept of "The Eyes" on the front of HMM-163 aircraft was born.
On 1 January 1966, HMM-163 flew via C-130 to Phu Bai, Vietnam, relieved HMM-161, and took over their H-34 helicopters. Painting of what were then called "Genie Eyes" (after the "I Dream of Jeannie" TV show) began immediately.
By March 1966, HMM-163's "Genie Eyes" were being called "Evil Eyes" by the ground units the squadron supported. The Squadron flew over 2,000 flight hours in ten days in support of the overrun Ashau Valley Special Forces Camp, in which 190 U.S. Army survivors were rescued from enemy capture. In Aug/Sept 1966, orders came from 1st MAW to eliminate white paint on Marine helicopters; so all white markings and lettering were either stricken or painted over in black. HMM-163 was aboard a carrier off the coast of Vietnam and used the excuse that they were not directly under Wing command at that time. The "Evil Eyes", therefore, remained black and white.
In October 1966, the squadron again returned to Phu Bai, Viet Nam, still with black and white "Evil Eyes", under the command of LtCol Rocco Bianchi. LtCol Bianchi was a good friend of the Wing Commander, but that didn't keep Major General Louis B. Robertshaw, 1st MAW Commanding General, from reading LtCol Bianchi the riot act concerning the unauthorized paint scheme. Also in the room at the time of this conversation was the Commanding General of the Marine ground forces in the area who politely interrupted by saying, "It sure is great to have the 'Evil Eyes' back here at Phu Bai!" The 1st MAW Commanding General relented and the "Evil Eyes" have remained to this day.\\
From 1964 to 1968, the squadron served with distinction in combat earning a Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation along with many personal awards. Since returning to the United States, a vigorous training program designed to produce combat ready CH-46 aircrews has been pursued with many thousands of flight hours flown in support of training. HMM-163 received the Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award in 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1989, and 1996, while Five Meritorious Unit Commendations (MUC) for the periods of 1 July 1978 through 31 December 1980, 1 January 1982 through 31 December 1983, 30 September 1983 through 30 September 1985, 22-28 January 1987, and 1 January 1986 through 31 July 1987 acknowledge the squadron's hallmark of superior performance. The squadron was also named the MCAA Helicopter squadron of the Year in 1979, 1981, 1985, 1990, and 2002.
During the 1990's, HMM-163 continued to excel while serving as the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) for five Special Operations Capable Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU (SOC)) on deployments to the Pacific and Central Command theaters. During this time, the squadron participated in operations in the Pacific, the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf, including Operation: FIERY VIGIL in 1991, Operations: CONTINUE HOPE, DISTANT RUNNER, and QUICK DRAW in 1994, DESERT STRIKE in 1996 and Operation: RESOLUTE RESPONSE in 1998.
In 2001, while deployed with the 15th MEU (SOC), HMM-163 served our country with distinction by participating in combat operations in support of Operation: SWIFT FREEDOM and Operation: ENDURING FREEDOM while forward deployed to the Central Command Theater of Operations. The Evil Eyes planned and executed the longest amphibious assault in American military history with the seizure of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in southern Afghanistan and remained forward deployed for seven weeks.
In 2003 and 2004, the Evil Eyes deployed with the 13th MEU (SOC), and again, the squadron made history by being part of the first Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG-1). The ESG concept focused on combining surface action groups and submarines with traditional Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) and MEUs to offer theater combatant commanders more flexibility and capabilities. The squadron proved its worth by supporting multiple operations and exercises while in the CENTCOM AOR, to include Operation: IRAQI FREEDOM, Operation: SWEENEY, Operation: ENDURING FREEDOM, Exercise IRON MAGIC, and Exercise EDGED MALLET.
During the 13th MEU deployment of 2005, the Evil Eyes served honorably by supporting combat operations in Iraq. The squadron provided Convoy Escort, Close Air Support and Aerial Reconnaissance for the H-1s and AV-8s, and Assault Support and resupply for the CH-46s and CH53s. The Evil Eyes also participated in numerous missions to include: OPERATIONS TRIFECTA, STEEL CURTAIN, IRON HAMMER, LIBERTY EXPRESS, and RIVERGATE in Iraq, and flying a total of 2700 combat flight hours in a 65 day period.
The Evil Eyes were once again attached to the 13th MEU (SOC) in 2007 and served admirably in support of Operation: IRAQI FREEDOM 06-08.1. The squadron’s main body as well its detachments flew general support missions, CAS, and escort missions throughout Al Asad, Al Quaim, and Al Taqaddum.
In 2009 and 2011, the Evil Eyes deployed again with the 13th MEU and served admirably executing theatre security cooperation (TSC) exercises and serving as the reserve element for the CENTCOM AOR.
By persistently setting new standards of excellence the Evil Eyes continue to blaze a trail for others to follow and look forward to the challenges the future will bring.