Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron VMM-166
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-263 [HMM-263]
Marines of VMM-263 are the first operational Osprey squadron. VMM-263 can be expected to reap the almost countless rewards, such as being able to travel at speeds of nearly 300 mph — twice the speed of any current helicopter — and have up to five times the range of travel while carrying three times the payload.
The Mission of VMM-263 is to Support the MAGTF Commander by providing assault support transport of combat troops, supplies and equipment, day or night, under all weather conditions during expeditionary, joint, or combined operations. VMM-263, home to more than 150 Marines and the successor to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 which cased its colors in June 2005, will carry on the proud name, Thunder Chickens, and also the legacy of the former CH-46E Sea Knight squadron.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 ["The Thunder Eagles"] was activated initially as Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR) 263 on 16 June 1952 and was outfitted with HO5S Helicopters. For it' s first two (2) years of operations the squadron was home based at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. During the early months the squadron was occupied with proficiency training which contributed to the growing body of knowledge of rotary wing aircraft and their employment, then being developed by the Marine Corps.
On 7 July 1954, HMR-263 relocated to Marine Corps Air Facility, New River, North Carolina, where it remained home based for the next eleven (11) years. During this time the squadron participated in over fifteen (15) major exercises and deployments including relief in Tampico, Mexico (Oct 1955) and operations from the submarine USS SEA LION (Mar 1956). During December 1956 the squadron was redesignated HMR (L) 263 and re-equipped with the HUS-1 (UH-34) helicopter.
During October 1962, HMM-263 was deployed to the Caribbean when the United States initiated a response to Russian missiles employed in Cuba. The squadron became part of a much larger force which embarked there. In June 1964, the squadron was a participant in Exercise Steel Pike off the coast of Spain, then the largest amphibious exercise since World War II.
During April and May 1965, HMM-263 was deployed to the Dominican Republic in support of the United States assistance operations there. On 23 August 1965, HMM-263 served in Vietnam participating in over twenty-four (24) combat operations. During November 1967, HMM-263 was transferred to Santa Anna, California where it was re-equipped with CH-46D helicopters before redeploying to Vietnam in January 1969. The squadron remained in Vietnam until April 1971 and then transferred to Marine Corps Air Station, Quantico, Virginia and began flying the CH-46F helicopter. The (4) years in Vietnam earned the squadron numerous unit awards.
HMM-263 remained home based at Quantico for four (4) years and participated in several cold weather exercises, two (2) Mediterranean cruises, and one (1) Caribbean deployment in addition to numerous smaller training exercises. During August 1975, HMM-263 relocated to Marine Corps Air Station, New River, North Carolina. While home based at New River, the squadron completed the transition to the CH-46E helicopter during the summer of 1980. Over the course of past seventeen (17) years the squadron participated in four (4) major NATO exercises, made six (6) Mediterranean cruises, deployed on Goodwill cruises to Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.
The squadron first served in Lebanon from October 1982 until March 1983, and then again from April 1984 until August 1984. During the LF6F 1-86 deployment the squadron served as the Air Combat Element of the 26th MAU, the first Special Operations Capable MAU, which operated in support of CTF-60 during operations in Libya. HMM-263 deployed in May 1987 as the Air Combat Element of the 24th MAU for LF6F 3-87. Contingency operation in the Persian Gulf necessitated splitting the squadron into three sections, operating from CONUS, the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. Squadron aircraft participated in the seizure of the Iranian mine laying ship "Iran Ajar". In August 1990 the squadron again found itself headed for the Persian Gulf region. As a part of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, HMM-263 was quick to respond to the aggression of Iraq against it's Kuwaiti neighbors. Squadron aircraft flew countless hours in support of the amphibious task force, participated in numerous amphibious assault exercises and conducted a flawless Non-combatant Evacuation Operation of the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. The squadron also assisted in the interdiction of two Iraqi vessels in support of the United Nations mandated embargo of Iraq.
In March 1993 the squadron was called upon to support a USCENTCOM deployment to Somalia participating in operation RESTORE HOPE and CONTINUE HOPE. During Landing Force Sixth Fleet 2-95 deployment the squadron deployed aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) as the Aviation Combat Element for the 24th MEU(SOC). The squadron distinguished itself by conducting the successful TRAP rescue mission of Air Force pilot Captain Scott O'Grady on 8 June, 1995. During this deployment the squadron also participated in six large scale, multinational exercises, while providing TRAP support for Operations DENY FLIGHT and PROVIDE PROMISE in the Adriatic Sea, and in July 1996 the squadron was selected as the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron of the Year for it's efforts during LF6F 2-95. The squadron continued to support the Air-Ground team in a variety of operations and exercises, to include a LF6F deployment providing a U.S. presence in the Mediterranean Sea, Adriatic Sea, Black Sea and the Arabian Gulf.
The squadron deployed in late 1997 as part of the 24th MEU. It was involved in Exercise Bright Star in Egypt.
In 2000, HMM-263(Rein) again deployed as the 24th MEU(SOC)'s Air Combat Element. During that time, it was involved in operations in Kosovo, exercises in Israel and throughout the Mediterranean. HMM-263(Rein) took part in the 24th MEU's Landing Force Sixth Fleet Deployment 2000-2. During one exercise, Dynamic Response , HMM-263(Rein) provided support to the rest of the MEU in Kosovo while working out of its base camp at Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia and providing AV-8B fixed-wing support from aboard the USS WASP. During its deployment in 2000, HMM-263 flew 3780.1 flight hours in support of the 24TH MEU(SOC) from Spain to the Ukraine and Israel. "IN EVERY CLIME AND PLACE" is a phrase that the "Thunder Chicken" team considers the norm.
In its deployment as the ACE for the 24TH MEU(SOC), LF6F 3-02, the squadron broke new ground for the Marine Corps in operational support and force integration. Becoming the first squadron to deploy with a Reserve CH-53E detachment, HMM-263 has led the way in the “Total Force” concept of the Marine Corps. During the nine month deployment the Thunder Chickens flew an unprecedented 9568 hours and participated in Operational Rehearsal DYNAMIC RESPONSE in Kosovo, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in the Horn of Africa, Exercise IMAGE NAUTILUS in Djibouti, Exercise EDGED MALLET in Kenya, Exercise IRON MAGIC in U.A.E, and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in and around Baghdad, Tikrit, and Al Kut, Iraq. From KFOR to JTF-HOA and combat in Iraq, the Marines of HMM-263 continue recording “firsts” in Marine Corps history.
Once again receiving the call to service, HMM-263(Rein) was deployed to Al Taqqadum, Iraq in June and July, 2004. As a helicopter-only composite ACE, they once again engaged in support of combat operations. While participating in Operations like AL FAJR, CITADEL II, RIVERWALK, and PLYMOUTH ROCK, HMM-263 (Rein) totaled 7,472.5 combat flight hours, of which an amazing 4,664.9 were on NVG’s. During this tour, the squadron executed the first all-Iraqi heliborne assault in support of the newly-created Iraqi Security Forces, adding once again to the lengthy list of firsts the squadron has accomplished. The squadron re-deployed in February of 2005 with only seven CH-46E’s in anticipation of the transition to the MV-22.
Upon return to CONUS, the squadron redistributed three more CH-46E’s and still participated in exercises and public relations events. In May of 2005, HMM-263 along with the 24th MEU, participated in Fleet Week in New York city. The squadron and its Marines were highlighted by numerous public events and television broadcasts. On 3 June 2005, HMM-263 stood down and entered a training phase in order to prepare for the transition to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (VMM-263), the first operational MV-22 squadron in the fleet. On 3 March 2006, the squadron was redesignated as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263.
The future of Marine Corps aviation took a large step forward as the first operational MV-22 Osprey squadron was activated on 03 March 2006 at MCAS New River, N.C. “Commissioning [Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263] is a historic day for the Thunder Chickens, for our Corps, and for our nation,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Moore, 2d Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general. “We have introduced a transformational aircraft into our nation’s forces with the Thunder Chickens.”
In September 2007, VMM-263 left with 10 Ospreys from MCAS New River for Iraq, becoming the first unit to deploy with the new aircraft. They returned in April 2008.
In another history-making moment for Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, the first MV-22B Ospreys entered the Task Force Leatherneck area of operations 05 NOvember 2009, alighting in three waves at Camp Bastion Airfield. Making the long journey from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard USS Bataan in the Indian Ocean to the Bastion Airfield in the Helmand desert, the 10 tiltrotor aircraft are the first of their kind to operate in Afghanistan. The unique design of the Osprey allows for not only vertical takeoff, but conversion to fixed-wing flight at much faster speeds than helicopters.
"I am very excited to have these new birds here," said Lt. Col. William Depue, executive officer for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced), adding that the aircraft's increased speed and range will "cut the size of the area of operations in half." The Ospreys, which formed the bulk of VMM-263 (Rein) with the 22nd MEU will join Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 as part of MEB-Afghanistan's aviation combat element, Marine Aircraft Group 40.
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