Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 was commissioned as Marine Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California, on 30 September 1971. After returning from combat duty in Southeast Asia, the squadron received its first AH-1G Cobra, beginning a tradition of attack helicopter operations that has evolved to our present configuration of 15 AH-1Z Viper Cobras and 12 UH-1Y Venom Hueys. Through the 1970s, HMA-169 engaged in rigorous amphibious training at sea and combined exercises ashore. HMA-169 conducted operational testing and evaluation as the first Fleet Marine Force (FMF) attack helicopter squadron to fire the 5" Zuni rocket and employ the TOW missile.
The 1980s brought increased operational commitments and a growing legacy of aviation safety milestones. HMA-169 aircrew and helicopters also participated in numerous innovative combat development programs, including the AIM-9L Sidewinder evaluation. On 1 October 1986, the re-designated HMLA-169 received 12 UH-1N Hueys, increasing the Vipers' capabilities commensurate with the needs of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Testing of the composite squadron came on 8 October 1987, when HMLA-169 deployed with 72 hours’ notice as the Aviation Combat Element for contingency MAGTF 1-88 aboard the USS Okinawa enroute to the Persian Gulf. HMLA-169 continued innovative training by developing tactics for the Hellfire missile system, night vision goggles (NVGs), reconnaissance insert operations, and combat mine countermeasures escort missions. In 1988, the Vipers were the first FMF helicopter squadron to fire the Sidearm anti-radiation missile and the first to fire the AIM-9L Sidewinder utilizing NVGs.
From December 1990 to June 1991, HMLA-169 embarked aboard the USS Tarawa in support of combat operations in Southwest Asia, and deployed ashore during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm with MAG-50 in Tanajib, Saudi Arabia. From 24 February to 4 March 1991, the Vipers flew 234 combat sorties engaging enemy Iraqi forces without loss of aircraft or personnel. Returning from the Kuwaiti theater, the squadron was routed to assist in humanitarian relief to flood-ravaged Bangladesh as part of Operation Sea Angel. In May 1992 HMLA-169 supported local law enforcement during the Los Angeles riots, and conducted humanitarian relief and peace keeping operations in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope. In November of 1993, Viper University was formed to familiarize and educate new pilots in the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the HMLA and is still implemented to this day. From 1993-1997, the Vipers deployed to Southwest Asia on the 11th, 15th, and 31st MEUs as well as a Unit Deployment Program (UDP) to Okinawa Japan. The summer of 1996 included HMLA-169 demonstrating the effectiveness of NVGs, Night Targeting System upgraded (NTS) Super Cobras, and Navigation Thermal Imaging System upgraded (NTIS) Hueys. In 1997, HMLA-169 was required to sustain tri-site operations during their deployment period which culminated in the receipt of the John P. Giguere Squadron of the Year Award.
In February 2001, HMLA-169 took part in Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s “Project Metropolis,” refining tactics, techniques and procedures in the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) environment, which laid the groundwork for future Marine Corps Doctrine. After the September 11th attacks on the United States, HMLA-169’s detachment to the 15th MEU(SOC) were among the first Marines that entered Afghanistan during Operation SWIFT FREEDOM in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
HMLA-169 achieved a milestone in March 2002 by surpassing 50,000 mishap-free flight hours. 2003 began with the squadron’s deployment to Ali Al Salem, Kuwait, in response to the escalating situation in Iraq. Hostilities began, and HMLA-169 conducted sustained combat operations throughout March and April in support of I MEF during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. In the months to follow, the squadron continued to provide air support during stabilization operations throughout Iraq, flying 1,860 combat sorties.
In August of 2004, the squadron once again deployed to Iraq, this time to Al Asad, Al Anbar province in support of OIF II. HMLA-169 remained in Iraq until February 2005, participating in major named operations such as HAMMER & PACIFIC STORM, RAWAH, BEARS, HIT, DIABLO, and PHANTOM FURY/AL-FAJR, and supported the first free Iraqi elections in fifty years. While deployed, the squadron flew 4,143 combat hours and 2,489 combat sorties.
HMLA-169’s main body arrived to Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq on 12 April 2006 and within the first 15 minutes after the Transfer of Authority, the squadron responded to a Point of Injury CASEVAC which typified the pace of operations in support of OIF 05-07. High tempo operations continued throughout the summer of 2006 with the squadron responding to 972 CASEVACs, 253 Troops In Contact (TIC) and 1,149 JTARs with the squadron averaging 800 AH-1W hours and 400 UH-1N hours each month.
During this time, the squadron maintained a detachment of three AH-1Ws and two UH-1Ns at FOB Al Qaim which came under attack by insurgents in September 2006. The maintenance Marines helped man the FOB perimeter while the AH-1W pilots launched and attacked targets along the fence line. A day later, the enemy was heard calling off the attack due to overwhelming air support.
In 2007, HMLA-169 returned to Iraq, marking their fourth OIF deployment. In 2009, HMLA-169 deployed a detachment to Iraq in support of OIF again while the remaining squadron (minus) was among the first Marines to deploy to Afghanistan since 2002 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. The Iraq detachment then joined the squadron in Afghanistan in preparation for surge operations as the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade became established. That summer, the squadron supported Operation KHANJAR, the largest offensive heliborne operation since the Vietnam War, involving over 4,000 Marines, British forces, over 650 Afghan troops, and joint and coalition air.
In 2010, HMLA-169 transitioned to the highly capable UH-1Y Venom, and deployed again to Afghanistan, providing close air support to US Marine battalions, Army units, assault support units, and coalition partners, participating in over eighty named operations. In addition, HMLA-169 was the first HMLA to employ the new GAU-21, a .50 caliber machine gun on the UH-1Y in combat leading to HMLA-wide revision of tactics, techniques, and procedures for UH-1Y door gunners. Overall, from 2010 to 2011, the Vipers supported 2,988 JTARs, 253 ASRs, responded to 58 TICs, and supported 176 CASEVACs.
By August 2013, HMLA-169 completed the process of transitioning from the AH-1W to the AH-1Z, making it the second fully upgraded HMLA in the Marine Corps. In August of 2014, HMLA-169 participated in a full squadron Detachment for Training (DFT) to Naval Air Facility El Centro in support of Scorpion Fire 2-14, flying 350 flight hours in 20 days. In October of the same year, the Vipers sent aircrew to the fall Weapons Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course and detached part of the squadron to Marine Medium Tiltrotor (VMM) 161 as a part of the 15th MEU. Over the next three years, HMLA-169 deployed on the 15th and 31st MEU, a UDP to Okinawa, Japan, multiple DFTs, and graduated six Weapons and Tactics Instructors.
In 2019, the Vipers returned to Camp Pendleton after successful completion of the 31st MEU and UDP, and began preparation for a tri-site deployment to support the 11th MEU, 31st MEU, and UDP in 2021.
The squadron has been awarded the Presidential Unit Citation with one bronze star, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Award, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Naval Unit Commendation streamer with one silver and one bronze star, the Meritorious Unit Commendation streamer with four bronze stars, and the National Defense Service streamer with two bronze stars. The squadron has received three Chief of Naval Operations safety awards, numerous Fleet Marine Force Pacific Aviation Safety Awards and received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations from May 1996 to June 1997. HMLA-169 was awarded Marine Corps Aviation Association Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron of the Year in 1997, 2007, 2013, and most recently in 2019.