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Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-369 [HMLA-369]

Marine Helicopter Attack Squadron-369 was activated on 1 April 1972, at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, assigned to Marine Aircraft Group-36, 1st Marine Air Wing, flying the new AH-1J Sea Cobra. At the end of May, HMA-369 received orders to report aboard USS Denver, LPD-9.  When all hands were aboard, Major Hansen the squadron Commanding Officer played "Never Promised You a Rose Garden" over the ships loud speaker and informed the squadron that they were heading to a position off of the North Vietnamese coast near a place called Tiger Island.

The operation would be designated Operation MARHUK (Marine Hunter Killer). The squadron'smission would be to interdict small boats off the North Vietnamese coast that were loaded with supplies from Soviet and Chinese merchant ships in international waters. The mission was later expanded to the destruction of NVA Anti Aircraft emplacements, and truck traffic throughout North Vietnam, at times getting as close as 80 miles south of Hanoi and Haiphong. In addition, the Gunfighters (called Pistol Pete at that time) also provided cover for aircrew that had been shot down over enemy territory until extraction teams arrived on scene. During this operation, the AH-1J Sea Cobra saw its first combat. The Gunfighters had the distinction of being the first squadron to conduct offensive air operations with attack helicopters. As a result of the Gunfighters success in Operation MARHUK, the Marine Corps Aviation Association honored HMA-369 with their HELICOPTER SQUADRON OF THE YEAR AWARD in 1972. HMA-369 was also awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation for this period. The squadron redeployed to Okinawa in January 1973, but remained active in the conflict through Operation Eagle Pull and Frequent Wind in 1975, flying numerous sorties supporting the evacuation of Saigon.

In April 1977, HMA-369 was disestablished on Okinawa and reestablished at MCALF, Camp Pendleton, CA, as a member of Detachment MAG-16, 3d MAW. Initially in a cadre status, the squadron quickly built to its present size. Through the late '70s and early '80s the Gunfighters maintained their high state of excellence during many unit deployments, exercises and operations. In October 1982, the Marine Corps Aviation Association awarded the Commandant's Efficiency trophy in recognition for being the most operationally productive squadron in the Marine Corps for 1981.

In August 1983, Marine Helicopter Attack Squadron-369 had the distinction of being the first helicopter squadron of any service to participate in the U.S. Air Force Red Flag aviation combat exercise. This exercise had previously been limited to fixed wing aircraft only. In June 1984, while participating in Red Flag 84-4, HMA-369 achieved the milestone of 10,000 mishap-free hours. For two weeks during the following month, the squadron provided six UH-1Ns for VIP support during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. During the games, HMA-369 flew such honored guests as the King and Queen of Sweden and Princess Anne of Great Britain.

In October 1985, HMA-369 was in Hong Kong to support then Vice-President George Bush's trip to the People's Republic of China. On two separate occasions, the Gunfighters flew four UH-1Ns from Hong Kong, across the Red Chinese border to the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. This historic trip marked the first time since 1949 that a tactical Marine squadron had penetrated communist China's airspace.

In January 1986, HMA-369 reached a milestone of 20,000 accident-free flight hours, and in May was awarded Fleet Marine Force's Pacific Annual Aviation SAfety Award for 1985. During 1987, the Gunfighters celebrated many milestones and saw many changes. One first came for HMA-369 in January 1987 when four AH-1Js and two UH-1Ns were loaded aboard an Air Force C-5 and flown to Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Republic of the Philippines. This marked the first time that Marine Corps helicopters participated in Cope Thunder, an Air Force sponsored exercise.

As CONUS operations resumed for HMA-369, the squadron was presented with the 1986 FMFPac Safety Award on 10 July 1987. Another milestone was marked on 23 July 1987 as HMA-369 reached 30,000 mishap-free flight hours, and on 19 August 1987 HMA-369 celebrated its fifth anniversary of Class A mishap free flying. Also during 1987, UH-1Ns were made a permanent part of the HMA-369 T/E and on 15 September 1987 HMA-369 was officially designated Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 (HMLA-369).

In October 1987, the majority of AH-1J pilots attended the AH-1W pilots familiarization course in Dallas, TX, and on 30 October 1987, HMLA-369 received its first AH-1W. From 10 to 25 April 1988, the Gunfighters supported Combined Arms Exercise 5-88 and fired it's first Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) and Hellfire missiles from the new "Whiskey" model Cobras. 1 May 1988 marked the end of an era for HMLA-369, as the last AH-1J departed the squadron.

On 11 December 1988, 8 AH-1Ws and the main body were flown to MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, for Unit Deployment Program (UDP) Western Pacific aboard C-5 and C-141 aircraft. This marked the first "Whiskeys" to deploy to Okinawa in support of the UDP. HMLA-369 deployed to the Republic of the Philippines from 9 January - 3 February 1989 with 5 AH-1Ws and 3 UH-1Ns. HMLA-369 was the first light attack squadron to Rapid Ground Refuel (RGR) and to fly to and from the Philippines. During the deployment, a successful AIM-9H shoot was accomplished from an AH-1W. In addition, HMLA-369 surpassed 40,000 hours of Class A mishap-free flying on 30 January 1989.

Because of the readiness demonstrated by HMLA-369, the squadron was chosen as the Marine Aircraft Group 70 (MAG-70) HMLA in support of Operation Desert Shield. Within a week of receiving official notice, the Gunfighters embarked for Southwest Asia with 24 aircraft and a squadron of combat-ready Marines. Four, six-plane detachments, each fully able to debark and operate independently, were created with the first C-5 off loading on 16 August 1990 in Saudi Arabia. HMLA-369 was the first Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron in theater. During Desert Shield, the Gunfighters continued their pattern of excellence in maintenance, training, and in developing new and innovative tactics to combat the Iraqis. Early on the morning of 17 January, Operation Desert Storm commenced. HMLA-369 was the first HMLA called to war. Throughout the war, the Gunfighters distinguished themselves both in the planning and execution phases of the air and ground wars. On 10 March 1991, the Gunfighters departed Saudi Arabia, returning to Camp Pendleton for some well deserved rest. In November 1991, while deployed to the Republic of the Philippines, the Gunfighters received the Squadron of the Year Award for it's outstanding contribution to the quick victory over Iraq.

On 28 November 1992, HMLA-369 began planning for Operation Restore Hope, the international United Nations humanitarian relief effort in Somalia. On 3 December 1992, the Gunfighters were assigned the force in readiness and was tasked to deploy eight AH-1Ws and eight UH-1Ns to Somalia in support of Operation Restore Hope. The squadron deployed via C-5s between 22 -28 December 1992. By 1 January 1993 the entire squadron was deployed to Baledogle, Somalia, as the only Light Attack Helicopter Squadron in theater. In austere field conditions and with limited support, the Gunfighters operated at an incredible pace. Flying a variety of missions including CIFS, Command and Control, Medical Evacuation, escort, visual and photo reconnaissance, logistical supply, VIP and Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) support, HMLA-369 logged 1,098 flight hours during January 1993. In late February, the Gunfighters moved their base of operations from Baledogle to Mogadishu. On 19 March, HMLA-369 took over as the Air Combat Element from MAG-16 for Marine Forces Somalia. The squadron assumed OPCON over detachments from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-363, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-16, Marine Wing Support Squadron-372 and Marine Air Control Squadron-38. During late April, HMLA-369 began their retrograde back to the continental United States. The mission was complete and responsibility was transferred to UNISOM II. By 1 May 1993, the entire squadron had returned.

June 1993 was spent preparing for another Marine Expeditionary Unit and Unit Deployment Program commitment during September and November 1993 respectively. November 1993 saw the Gunfighters depart to Okinawa in support of the UDP deployment cycle. Additionally, the Gunfighters provided detachments for the 11th and 31st MEU (Special Operation Capable). The Gunfighter 11th MEU (SOC) Detachment supported Operation Continue Hope and Operation Distant Runner, the evacuation of Americans from war torn Rwanda.

Upon return to the continental United States in May 1994, the Gunfighters were designated the first Night Targeting System (NTS) AH-1W squadron in the Fleet Marine Force. The Gunfighters went through an intensive validation and verification process in support of the NTS AH-1W. A complete pilot training syllabus was created, along with extensive revisions to maintenance and operational publications to fully integrate the NTS AH-1W into the Fleet. ECAX 5/6-95 saw the ultimate integration of the NTS AH-1W and Huey Gunship team to Fleet operations. The innovative tactics and procedures developed by the Gunfighters brought a new dimension to the Marine Air Ground Team. In July 1995, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 was the first NTS equipped squadron to undergo a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation. Not only did the Gunfighters validate previously untested NTS tactics, they did so at night utilizing Night Vision Devices during Low-Light Level conditions. This was a first in the Marine Light Attack Helicopter community.

In August 1995, the Gunfighters achieved 25,000 mishap-free flight hours and detached an element of four AH-1W's and three UH-1N's to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). In the fall of the same year, the remaining Gunfighters deployed to Okinawa, Japan, in support of the Unit Deployment Program and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).

In May 1996, the squadron returned to the United States. In the summer, the Gunfighters supported Joint Task Force 6 and surpassed 30,000 mishap-free flight hours. In September, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 was recognized for outstanding mission accomplishments and an exemplary safety record when they were selected as the Marine Corps Aviation Association Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 1996 and received the Chief of Naval Operation Aviation Safety Award.

In February 1997, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 began introducing the latest modification to the AH-1W Cobra, Engineering Change Proposal 1686 (ECP 1686), to the fleet. The Gunfighters demonstrated the new upgrade at both the Paris International Air Show and the Australian International Air Show. In late spring, the Gunfighters supported live fire exercises Desert Scimitar and Decisive Battle in Twentynine Palms, CA. The squadron also supported Kernel Blitz, an amphibious exercise off the coast of Camp Pendleton.

In August 1997, the Gunfighters detached an element to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) deployed on the USS Peleliu in support of Western Pacific 2-97. The remainder of the squadron deployed to Naval Air Facility El Centro, CA, to complete its predeployment Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation.

In the fall of 1997, the remaining Gunfighters deployed to Okinawa, Japan, in support of the Unit Deployment Program and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) taking the first two NTS AH-1W's to Okinawa. While deployed, the Gunfighters accomplished several noteworthy achievements. Gunfighter pilots successfully flew Joint Combat Search and Rescue missions with the United States Air Force 33rd Rescue Squadron. Elements of the squadron deployed to Pohang, Korea, in order to validate portions of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Korea Peninsula Operations Plan. The Gunfighters also fired the first two autonomously designated Hellfire missiles in III Marine Expeditionary Force.

In April 1998, the Gunfighters returned to Camp Pendleton, rejoining the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) detachment which had returned in March from a successful WestPac tour. In June 1998, the Gunfighters participated in Operation Desert Punch which took place at both Camp Pendleton, CA, and the Marine Corps Air/Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, CA. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 provided key planning personnel and two flight leaders for the operation which was the largest airlift of its kind and incorporated 65 aircraft, including 50 helicopters. In August 1998, the Gunfighters took part in a Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration during the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA, Air Show. The Gunfighters also deployed a detachment of three UH-1N's to Niland, CA, for two weeks of intense, live-fire training with Navy SEALS in the night, low-level training environment.

In September 1998, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 accepted the Marine Corps Aviation Association Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron of the Year Award for 1998. This award recognized the Gunfighters' commitment to excellence and sustained superior performance. It was the second such award for the Gunfighters in the last three years.

In October, 1998, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, provided personnel and aircraft for two separate detachments, Combined Arms Exercise 1-99 in Twentynine Palms and Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course 1-99. Both detachments provided outstanding support for the operations as not one mission was cancelled due to maintenance. During the winter of 1998, the Gunfighters were recognized again for their superior safety record when they received their third consecutive Chief of Naval Operations Safety Aviation Award Safety Award.

In January 1999, the squadron participated in a Strategic Mobility Exercise. In less than 48 hours, Gunfighter Marines loaded two AH-1W's and one UH-1N aboard a C-5A at March Air Force Base which was then flown to Kadena, Okinawa, Japan. This same detachment then loaded two different AH-1Ws and returned to California. In March 1999, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 provided six AH-1W's and two UH-1N's to support the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab exercise Urban Warrior. The Gunfighter detachment embarked on the Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) and participated in operations in both Monterey and Oakland, CA.




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