Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-361 [HMH-361]
The Flying Tigers were initially commissioned as Marine Transport Squadron 361 on 25 February 1952 at what was then MCAS (h) Santa Ana, California. The Flying Tigers began their legacy attached to the only helicopter group in the Marine Corps, Marine Air Group (HR) - 16. At that time, the squadron consisted of only three OY-2 and one HRS-2 helicopters located at MCAS El Toro. The original mission of the squadron was to train for and improve upon Amphibious Ship-to-Shore Tactics. An additional mission was training replacement pilots for duty in the Korean War.
Shortly thereafter the squadron undertook its first major operation, to provide support for the atomic test exercise at Desert Rock, Nevada which is still the largest helicopter operation in history. Upon their return, HMR-361 was transferred to the newly established MAG (HR)-36 at MCAF Santa Ana in 1953. On 31 December 1956, the squadron was redesignated HMR (l)-361 and was now flying the HRS-3 helicopter. The Flying Tigers participated in two more atomic bomb testing exercises, beginning in June 1957 and February 1958.
In September 1958, the squadron began flying the HUS-1 (more commonly recognized as the H-34) helicopter and in 1960 performed the first West Coast parachute drop for Marine Pathfinders from the HUS. On February 1, 1962, the Flying Tigers were redesignated HMM-361 according to a Marine Corps wide redesignation for all H-34 squadrons.
The Flying Tigers deployed for the Cuban Missile Crisis on 27 October 1962 in support of the 5th MEF onboard the USS Iwo Jima.
In June 1963, the Flying Tigers were deployed to Okinawa, Japan. The one-year deployment was cut short, however, when the squadron was transferred to Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam, as one of the first units in country, to participate in operation Shufly. It was there that HMM-361 earned the nickname "Ross's Rice Runners", a distinction for which their Commanding Officer, LtCol Tom Ross, was selected by the Marine Corps Aviation Association (MCAA) as the third ever Marine Aviator of the year. The squadron was rotated through Futenma, Okinawa and back to Santa Ana before returning to Da Nang in 1965; serving in Vietnam until being transferred back to the U.S. and attached to MAG- 26 at MCAF New River, NC. It was there that the squadron transitioned to the CH-53A helicopter and was redesignated Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron, HMH-361. They were again ordered to Vietnam with Marine Aircraft Group 36 at Phu Bai in 1969 and remained there until their return to the newly redesignated Marine Corps Air Station (H) Santa Ana, CA in 1970 as part of Marine Aircraft Group 56.
HMH-361 received their first CH-53D helicopter in 1977, and on 1 June 1979 was the first squadron to deploy overseas as part of the new Unit Deployment Program, completing the first of twelve, six month WestPac deployments on 3 December 1979. In October 1984 the squadron became the first 3D MAW helicopter squadron to train under the squadron training exercise and employment plan. Finishing this training in May 1985, HMH-361 attained the highest Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation System (MCCRES) grade to date for a rotary wing squadron. During the squadron's ensuing six WestPac deployments under the UDP, HMH-361 accomplished the first over water flight to NAS Cubi Point, Republic of the Philippines.
While in the Philippines in 1989 during a UDP deployment, the Flying Tigers completed the first night Rapid Ground Refueling (RGR) mission on night vision goggles, which included a 750 mile round trip from Cubi Point to Basco Island under complete radio silence.
Marine Heavy Helicopter squadron 361 began conversion to the CH-53E Super Stallion on 23 August 1990. On 5 November 1992, the Flying Tigers deployed to Okinawa as the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of the 31st MEU (SOC), the first MEU to utilize a CH-53E squadron as the nucleus. Here they were joined by detachments of CH-46E's from HMM-262, AH-1W's, and UH-1N's from HMLA-267, and AV-8B's from VMA-311 to become HMH-361 (REIN), the first CH-53E composite squadron in history.
The Flying Tigers again made history in November of 1994 when they were quadruple sited while on their tenth deployment to Okinawa. Detachments were sent to the 13th and 31st MEU's, the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground task force in support of Operation United Shield while the main body remained on Okinawa.
In August of 1995, the Flying Tigers were awarded the Marine Corps Aviation Association's Keith B McCutcheon award as Marine Heavy Helicopter squadron of the year and in June 1996 were awarded the 1995 CNO Aviation Association Safety Award.
In November 1996, HMH-361 once again deployed under the UDP to Okinawa while supporting detachments to the 11th and 31st MEU's. The main body supported Presidential lift requirements in the Philippines, 1st MAW and III MEF exercises in Japan and joint exercises with Republic of Korea forces in Pohang, South Korea.
After returning from Okinawa and reintegrating its MEU detachments in May of 1997, HMH-361 assumed the Alert Contingency Marine air-ground task force (ACM) status. Once again the Flying Tigers were awarded the Marine Corps Aviation Association's Keith B McCutcheon award as Marine Heavy Helicopter squadron of the year. The squadron also supported HMX-1 and the President of the United States, transporting three CH-53E's to San Carlos de Barioche, Argentina, aboard Air Force C-5 aircraft.
As 1998 approached, the squadron had to source two aircraft and one half of a normal MEU detachment to stand up an "interim" CH-53E MEU detachment for the 15th MEU. After sourcing a detachment for the 13th MEU and completing the normal pre-deployment training, HMH-361 once again deployed to Okinawa. Less than a week after arrival, the squadron chopped its detachment to the 31st MEU, which immediately sailed for the Persian Gulf. The day after chopping the MEU detachment, the squadron sent a four aircraft detachment to Tokyo, Japan in support of HMX-1 and President Clinton.
The Flying Tigers deployed to Okinawa in June 2003. An advanced party arrived in June and the main body was on the island by July. Four CH-53Es were sent to support the 31st MEU (SOC), and the rest of the squadron prepared for their first major deployment. The squadron spent part of August and September in Korea during Exercise Millennium Edge, where they supported Exercise Ulchi Focus Lens. During the exercise, Marines supported and trained with Republic of Korea Marines as well as Army aviation units. In October the tigers deployed to the Philippines where they took part in Exercise Talon Vision, a combined exercise during which HMH-361 performed training evolutions to include gunshots, aerial refueling, inserts and night flying. Between deployments, the tigers conducted training in picking up external loads and formation flying. The 200-plus Marines of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 returned to Miramar from a five-month unit deployment program on December 13, 2003.
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