Marine heavy helicopter squadron transfers authority in Afghanistan

4 Aug 2011 | Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 transferred authority of supporting Marines and their coalition partners in southwestern Afghanistan to HMH-464, at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Aug.1.

Both Marine Corps squadrons use the CH-53E Super Stallion, the largest helicopter in the U.S. military. The squadrons are relied upon to move troops and cargo, and to perform heavy-lift operations, such as moving large pieces of equipment or rescuing downed aircraft.

“The Marines did everything and more they could do out here, they went above and beyond what was asked of them, that’s a Marine trait,” said Sgt. Maj. Rodolfo Graham, the sergeant major of HMH-461, and a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. “They are excellent, and I am very proud of them.”

Though deployed under the banner of HMH-461 in Afghanistan, the CH-53E Super Stallion squadron was augmented with Marines from HMH-465.

“I am excited and anxious to go home,” said Lance Cpl. Sean J. Gherre, an airframe mechanic with HMH-465, and a native of Boston. “Now I just want to go back, see my family and sleep.”

The Marines of HMH-461 are now slated to return home to friends and families at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., and the Marines of HMH-465 will return home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

“We are going to go home and take some well deserved time off,” said Graham. “Then we will get back to work.”

During the outgoing squadron’s deployment, the Marines of HMH-461 flew their CH-53E Super Stallions for more than 4,000 hours while completing nearly 1,000 combat missions. They also transported about 35,000 passengers  and moved 7.1 million pounds of cargo around Afghanistan’s Nimruz and Helmand provinces. The squadron also supported tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel missions, lifting two damaged NATO H-47 Chinook helicopters to safety.

“The hours were long and tiring,” said Gherre. “But knowing that I did something important out here and knowing that I had a part in the bigger picture was the best part of my deployment.”

Lt. Col. Alison J. Thompson, the incoming squadron’s commanding officer and Sgt. Maj. Steven L. Lunsford, the HMH-464 sergeant major will lead nearly 300 Marines through the rigors of deployment.

“My goal for the squadron is to provide the very best assault support possible to the warfighter on the ground, that is why we are here,” said Thompson. “Stemming from this endeavor, I want to bring home all the Marines and Sailors having grown personally and professionally and knowing that they made a positive contribution to the fabric of the unit and to the theater effort.”

Lunsford, a native of Stanford, Ky., said he knows his Marines are devoted to the vast array of operations HMH-464, will be called upon to undertake.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories about Afghanistan and deployment and I’m excited that I get to make my own now story,” said Lance Cpl. Shannon M. Flinn, an administrative clerk with HMH-464, and a native of Parkesburg, W.Va. “I want to learn to do my job really well and to just improve myself.”

Like the departing squadron, HMH-464 will be a combined unit of both East and West coast Marines. Thompson said she predicts HMH-464, from New River, will be able to work together with augments from Miramar’s HMH-462 as seamlessly as their predecessors did.

“I feel the squadron will do extremely well but I can't imagine a squadron thinking they won't do well,” said Thompson. “I believe we will excel because we have trained hard. East and West coast components have assimilated seamlessly, and most importantly, we have a ‘can do’ attitude.”

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Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point