Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron FIFTEEN [HELASRON HS-15]
Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron FIFTEEN was commissioned to fly the SH-3 Sea King on 29 October 1971 at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey. During the next two and a half years, the Red Lions deployed aboard the USS GUAM, as part of the Sea Control Concept. In November 1973, the squadron moved from Lakehurst, New Jersey, to Jacksonville, Florida, and soon joined Helicopter Antisubmarine Wing ONE, thus closing its Sea Control chapter.
As a Carrier Air Wing squadron, HS-15 has operated aboard eight East Coast carriers: USS NIMITZ, USS AMERICA, USS INDEPENDENCE, USS FORRESTAL, USS SARATOGA, USS ENTERPRISE, USS EISENHOWER and is presently aboard USS GEORGE WASHINGTON as a member of Carrier Air Wing 17. Over the years, operations have taken HS-15 to the Atlantic, Arctic, and Indian Oceans as well as the Adriatic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Norwegian Seas and Arabian Gulf. During these many deployments the Red Lions have played a unique role in U.S. foreign policy and military actions. Involvements have included: Iranian/Afghanistan Contingency Operations, the U.S. Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon, combat operations during URGENT FURY in Grenada, extensive North Atlantic ASW operations with NATO, OPERATION PROVIDE COMFORT in Iran, OPERATION PROVIDE PROMISE / DENY FLIGHT/ FLEXIBLE ANVIL in the former Yugoslavia, and OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH in Iraq.
While conducting peacekeeping operations off the coast of Lebanon in 1982, the Red Lions shuttled U.S. Special Envoy Phillip Habib to and from Beirut as he negotiated a settlement to the Israeli-PLO conflict.
During USS INDEPENDENCE's 1983-84 "Combat Cruise" HS-15 was deployed as an element of CVW-6. Throughout the hostilities in Grenada, the Red Lions provided combat SAR service as well as small boat interdiction patrols while operating a forward detachment from the deck of the USS MOOSBURGGER. This detachment rescued eleven wounded personnel from a downed Army helicopter. After a short turnaround cycle, the squadron returned to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean for a last deployment on USS INDEPENDENCE before reassignment to USS FORRESTAL with CVW-6. Embarked in USS FORRESTAL, the squadron deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in June 1986, and in August 1987 to the Norwegian Sea as participants in OCEAN SAFARI '87.
The squadron's 1988 deployment took the Red Lions through the Suez Canal, to the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman to ensure ocean commerce through the Straits of Hormuz. This phase of the deployment included an impressive 108 consecutive days at sea. Among the high points of the deployment was the opportunity to meet the Commander-in-Chief, President George Bush, prior to his "Summit on the Sea" with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
With OPERATION DESERT SHIELD in August 1990, and then DESERT STORM in January 1991, Carrier Air Wing SIX and HS-15 entered a grueling training regime for possible deployment to the Middle East. In 24 days, vice the normal 4 months, they completed Refresher Training and Advance Phase, finishing the most intensive carrier work-up period ever conducted in the Atlantic Fleet. USS FORRESTAL, Carrier Air Wing SIX and HS-15 deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in May 1991 in support of OPERATION PROVIDE COMFORT.
The Red Lions returned to NAS Jacksonville in late December, just 4 days before Christmas. Shortly thereafter, USS FORRESTAL was decommissioned from active duty and HS-15 left CVW-6.
In the spring of 1992, HS-15 began the transition to the SH-60F / HH-60H Seahawk helicopter. After traveling to NAS North Island in San Diego, California to undergo training for the new aircraft, the squadron returned in late 1992 and completed transition in March 1993.
As new members of the CVW-17/USS SARATOGA team, the Red Lions went to sea in June 1993 in preparation for a January 1994 deployment, the last for USS SARATOGA (CV 60). All of the aircrews were Night Vision Goggle qualified, thereby enhancing their night ASW/SAR capabilities. Their integrated CSAR training with Seal Team EIGHT formed the most operationally ready Combat Search and Rescue Team in the U.S. Navy. HS-15 and Seal Team EIGHT stood over 1000 hours of CSAR alert in the Adriatic Sea supporting OPERATIONS PROVIDE PROMISE and DENY FLIGHT. Additionally, HS-15 conducted intensive Vertical Replenishment operations for the CV 60 battle group.
In fall of 1994, USS SARATOGA was decommissioned. CVW-17 and HS-15 moved on to the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) in September 1994. The Red Lions completed a Mediterranean Sea/Persian Gulf deployment in December 1996. Over the course of that cruise, the squadron flew almost 2000 hours and was involved in Operations DECISIVE ENDEAVOR and SOUTHERN WATCH, and participated in exercises with the Israeli military.
In 1997 the Red Lions became part of the USS EISENHOWER (CVN 69) battle group and welcomed its first female pilots to the wardroom. HS-15 honed its skills in antisubmarine warfare during detachments to the Bahamas, and contributed to the evolution of Special Warfare helicopter operations by training several pilots in the Mountain Flying Curriculum offered at NAS Fallon, Nevada. The Red Lions also played a critical role in the successful completion of workups aboard EISENHOWER.
In February of 1998, the Red Lions embarked for COMPTUEX, culminating with a three-day "war". During this training phase, HS-15 accumulated more flight time than any other squadron in the Air Wing. The squadron showed its great versatility, completing missions ranging from SEAL insertion and extraction to antisubmarine warfare. In fact, it was the skillful engagement and destruction of three submarine targets that allowed the EISENHOWER battle group to emerge victorious in the "war." COMPTUEX would also prove to be a test of HS-15's SAR capabilities, as the Red Lions carried out two successful rescues at sea. The first one involved an F/A-18 pilot, who ejected after a faulty catapult shot, while the second one included the nighttime medical evacuation of a critically injured sailor. After a short respite in Jacksonville, HS-15 was on its way once again to NAS Fallon, Nevada. There they focused on Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training. The Red Lions completed mountain and rough terrain flying in support of CSAR and SEAL operations.
By late April 1998 the Red Lions were ready for their six month deployment, and boarded the IKE to make the trek to the Persian Gulf with the rest of Carrier Air Wing 17. The IKE was to join the USS JOHN C. STENNIS as part of OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH. However, the IKE's plans were changed, and the carrier battle group received new orders to deploy in June. The Red Lions were now told they would deploy to enforce OPERATION DELIBERATE GUARD, patrolling the Adriatic Sea off the coast of the former Yugoslavia.
During the six-month deployment, the squadron of only six helicopters flew a total of over 2500 hours in support of carrier operations. The Red Lions also participated in several detachments. Two helicopters were sent to the Italian Naval base at Panteleria Island for the SHAREM 125 Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) exercise. The squadron also detached 2 HH-60H aircraft to USS AUSTIN (LPD-4) to provide real world armed combat support as part of OPERATION COOPERATIVE ASSEMBLY '98 in Albania. Another detachment sent the Red Lions to the USS ANZIO (CG 68) to support EXERCISE ELLIPSE BRAVO. Superior availability and exceptional advanced contingency planning allowed the squadron to be up, operational and onboard the detached ships in less that 8 hours from initial notification, including emergency recall, while on liberty in Corfu, Greece, earning accolades from Sixth Fleet.
Deployment also featured several first-of-a-kind efforts to conduct combined Combat Search and Rescue exercises with: British forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia; Egyptian Air Forces and rescue swimmers in EXERCISE EAGLE ARENA; French Naval Air Forces and Commandos operating in France and Corsica in EXERCISE FANCY '98; and Slovenian Air Forces and Special Forces in EXERCISE DOBODAN LENA. A 100% completion rate for scheduled sorties with the foreign forces enhanced U.S. Navy's reputation for excellence.
At mid-cruise the Red Lions were at peak combat readiness for the crisis in Kosovo. With rising political tensions between Serbia and NATO, combined with the threat of having an un-located Sava-class submarine, HS-15 stood ready with both a Combat Search and Rescue package, and a fully armed USW response. Once released from the Adriatic, the Red Lions headed to the Persian Gulf to provide CSAR support to the air wing during rising tensions with Iraq. While in this theatre, two helicopters were sent to Camp Doha, Kuwait to gain valuable desert flying experience.
HS-15 was also there when lives depended on them. We conducted five open ocean rescues of downed Naval Aviators, two medical evacuations from US submarines at sea, and medical evacuations of 13 people from U.S. and foreign ships at sea. These included two civilians from a sailboat at night in the Caribbean Sea, A Belgian Sailor from a deployed frigate in the Mediterranean, and an injured Marine from exercises in Albania. The squadron was later nominated for Meritorious Unit Commendation for sustained life saving actions. Various squadron personnel received over 20 separate Rescue Awards from Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and published 24 SAR reports and news articles.
For the year ending in 1998, HS-15 received the Golden Anchor Award for excellence in the retention of personnel, the HS Wing Maintenance Trophy for excellence in the maintenance department, the Armed Forces Service Medal and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. The Red Lions also received the coveted Battle "E" for battle efficiency and the Safety "S" for an impeccable record in the safety department.
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