Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron VMM-161
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-161 [HMM-161]
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 (REIN) was the 13 MEU Aviation Combat Element (ACE). When reinforced, it is capable of conducting a full range of Marine air operations, is comprised of CH-53E Super Stallion, CH-46 Sea Knight, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters. The 13th MEU also deploys with fixed wing AV-8B Harriers, and two KC-130 transport planes are on standby at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. Additionally, to ensure self sufficiency, the ACE has air traffic control, aircraft maintenance/support and aviation logistics/supply.
Activated Jan. 15, 1951 at El Toro, Calif., as Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 Air Fleet Marine Force Pacific. The squadron deployed August 1951 to Korea and attached to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). They then participated in the Korean War, operating from east central front and the western front. HMM-161 then participated in the defense of the Korean demilitarized zone from July 1953 to March 1955. They relocated that month to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, and attached to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13. The squadron was then redesigned Dec. 31, 1956 to Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (Light) 161, MAG 13, 1st MAW.
The squadron attached Oct. 1, 1958 to the 1st Marine Brigade and attached again Mar. 1, 1959 to MAG 13, 1st Marine Brigade. They were once again redesigned Feb. 1, 1962 as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, MAG 13, 1st Marine Brigade.
HMM-161 deployed May 1965 to Hue/Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam and attached to MAG 16, 1st MAW. They then relocated Jan. 1966 to Futema, Okinawa and redeployed April 1966 to Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam. Once again they redeployed June 1966 to Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam and relocated Nov. 1966 to Futema, Okinawa. The squadron attached to MAG 15, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade.They relocated during Dec. 1996 to MCAS New River, N.C. and attached to MAG 26, 2d MAW. HMM-161 then redeployed May 1968 to Quang Tri, Republic of Vietnam and attached to provisional MAG 39, 1st MAW when they redeployed Oct. 1969 to Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam, and attached to MAG 16, 1st MAW.
HMM-161 redeployed Sept. 1979 to Santa Ana, Calif., and attached to MAG 56, 3d MAW, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. They were reassigned July 1971 to MAG 16, 3d MAW, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and participated in the system of unit deployment between MAG 36, 1st MAW and MAG 16 during the late 1970's and until 1986. After that, they deployed June 1986 aboard the USS Tarawa to the Western Pacific (WestPac) as the Aviation Combat Element for the 13th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU). In 1987, elements deployed to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Okinawa as part of Contingency Marine Air-Ground Task Force (CMAGTF)1988. They deployed January aboard the USS Belleau Wood to the WestPac as the Aviation Combat Element for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEUSOC) Elements participated in the August 1989 clean up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
- 1990 - Once again HMM-161 deployed April aboard the USS New Orleans for Rim Of The Pacific (RIMPAC) '90. After that they deployed Aug. 17 to Saudi Arabia as part of MAG 70, 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in support of Operation Desert Shield.
- 1991 - The squadron participated in Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
- 1992 - HMM-161 deployed in May aboard the USS Tarawa to the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf as the Aviation Combat Element for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC)).
- 1994 - Deployed October aboard the USS Essex to the WestPac and Persian Gulf as the Aviation Combat Element for the 13th MEUSOC.
- 1995 - Participated in Operation United Shield, the withdrawal of United Nations Forces from Somalia and relocated in November to MCAS El Toro Calif.
- 1997 - Deployed March aboard the USS Boxer to the WestPac and Persian Gulf as the Aviation Combat Element for the 15th MEUSOC.
The Marine Corps grounded all of its Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing jets 12 July 2000 due to problems with the main engine bearing. This grounding initially included all of HMM-161's Harriers. The 13th MEU(SOC) was going to leave without the fixed-wing close air support of its aviation combat element because of the grounding, until three days before the deployment. Headquarters Marine Corps issued a statement explaining exactly what was wrong with the bearings and that some of the newer jets were allowed to fly. Thirty percent of the Corps' fleet of AV-8B IIs had a slightly different engine configuration and were not affected by the restrictions. The Marines immediately transferred jets from squadrons within Marine Air Group 13, under the direction of Col. David Buland, MAG-13 commanding officer. Four of the newer-model Harriers were relocated from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., directly to USS Tarawa to replace the grounded ones. Squadrons often swap aircraft in order to accomplish the mission. In this case, the mission was to deploy six active Harriers with the 13th MEU(SOC).
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, as part of the 15th MEU the "Greyhawks" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 (Reinforced) destroyed a total of 45 enemy targets: 12 artillery pieces, ten buildings, nine vehicles, seven tanks, five armored vehicles, one road intersection, and one aircraft.
Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, Grey-hawks, made their mark in squadron history by surpassing the 40,000 mishap-free flight hours mark during a training exercise in Indiana Springs, Nev in late 2003. The squadron began their climb into the history books in August 1995. Since then, the Marines have been involved in numerous exercises and operations in the Western Pacific and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the war, the Marines were involved in a variety of supporting missions while attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) including the destruction of 45 enemy targets. These targets consisted of artillery, tanks, armored vehicles, aircraft and buildings. HMM-161 consists mainly of CH-46E Sea Knights, but when reinforced, it is capable of conducting a full range of Marine air operations, comprising of CH-53E Super Stallion, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters, and AV-8B Harriers. None of the aircraft have been involved in any class "A" mishaps, meaning there was no loss of aircraft, no loss of life or damage sustained in excess of $1 million.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, cased their squadron colors and the Stars and Stripes at their headquarters building at Camp Al Taqaddum on September 2, 2004, in preparation for their redeployment home after a six month deployment in Iraq. During that time, the unit logged 3,042 combat flight hours in support of some of the most heavily engaged ground units in Iraq. The "Greyhawks" mission since their redeployment to Iraq was casualty evacuation from the battlefield in their CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters. The unit provided support to the Marines operating in Al Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation Vigilant Resolve. They continued flying support missions throughout the area of Iraq known as the "Sunni Triangle," where much of the heavy fighting and enemy resistance have taken place in the previous six months. During that time, the unit evacuated 1,016 patients, including 328 urgent evacuations, which required surgical care within the hour to save "life, limb or eyesight." The squadron successfully achieved 100 percent mission accomplishment throughout all 752 consecutive on-time launches of their aircraft on combat missions.
In August 2005, the squadron again deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Greyhawks provided around the clock CASEVAC and helicopter Assault Support in the Al Anbar Province flying some 5,100 combat hours and maintaining a perfect mission and safety record. The squadron returned from Iraq on 4 March 2006 and was subsequently awarded the CNO Safety Award and the Marine Corps Association’s 2006 Commandant’s Aviation Award.
The Greyhawks were called upon yet again to deploy to Al Taqaddum, Iraq in February 2007; the fourth deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The squadron continued the 24-hour CASEVAC and Helicopter Assault Support mission for the Marines of II MEF. The “BELL" was silent during the 15 September 2007 Transfer of Authority as HMM-161 was the last Marine squadron to perform the dedicated CASEVAC mission in Al Anbar. The squadron had completed a flawless deployment flying over 5,100 combat flight hours, performing 945 CASEVAC missions, and executing every task without aircraft damage due to mishap or enemy action.
September 2008 saw the Greyhawks deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM 08.2 in Al Taqaddum, Iraq and Al Asad Airbase. The squadron was again awarded the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Edward C. Dyer Award as the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron of the Year for 2009, the Pete Ross Aviation Safety Award and its seventh consecutive CNO Safety Award.
The Greyhawk’s return to MCAS Miramar on 14 April 2009 marked the bittersweet end to HMM-161’s illustrious history as a Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron, and began the transition to the first West Coast Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron; VMM-161.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 transitioned into a Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron, VMM-161, by January 2010 aboard the air station. The transition will be the first for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, as the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing has conducted multiple CH-46D “Sea Knight" to MV-22 Osprey transitions. The squadron will receive 12 aircraft by the project’s completion. All the transitions on the East Coast have gone well, and the squadron brought their knowledge and experience with them.
VMM-161 completed its transition to the MV-22 Osprey and became a fully functional tiltrotor squadron in Aprill 2011. In July 2012, VMM-161 became the first west coast Osprey squadron to deploy when it headed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The squadron completed the deployment and returned to MCAS Miramar in January 2013, having completed over 2,200 flight hours, over 100 named operations, and suffering zero mishaps.
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