Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron VMM-161
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-163 [HMM-163]
HMR(L)-163, the predecessor of HMM-163 (Rein), was formed on 1 December 1951 and assigned to the Air Fleet Marine Force Pacific. Since that date, the men and machines of the squadron have flown continuously in support of United States and allied operations throughout the Pacific theater.
After completing its initial training in the mountains of Southern California, the squadron deployed during August of 1953 to Hanshin, Japan and flew in support of the Korean conflict. The squadron nickname, "Ridge Runners" was bestowed as a result of a rescue operation conducted in inclement weather and mountainous terrain following a major typhoon that had struck the Hanshin area. In 1958, the squadron again supported a real world contingency, flying in support of Taiwan during the Quemoy and Matsu Island crisis.
The squadron was re-designated Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 in February 1962. From 1962 through 1968, the squadron flew numerous missions in the CH-34D from Soc Trang, Da Nang, Marble Mountain, Hue, PhuBai and Quang Tri bases in the Republic of Vietnam. Perhaps the most memorable chapter in the squadron's combat history occurred during the Battle of Ashau Valley. The squadron flew over 2,000 hours in just 10 days, first reinforcing and later evacuating a beleaguered U.S. Army Special Forces camp. More than 190 U.S. Army survivors were rescued from enemy capture as a result of ieRidge Runnerlr bravery.
The prominent "Evil Eyes" on the nose of the squadron's aircraft date from this period. Vietnam fisherman often painted eyes on sampans to ward off evil spirits and help them find their way home. One superstitious crew chief painted them on his H-34 to ward off enemy fire. During the next battle, his aircraft sustained the fewest hits. Other crew chiefs soon followed his example and the "Evil Eyes" became the squadron's good luck charm: they have been on every HMM-163 aircraft since (including one in the Smithsonian Institute's Air and Space Museum). For service in the Republic of Vietnam, the squadron was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze stars, the Navy Unit Commendation with two bronze stars and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm streamer.
In 1968, the squadron was reassigned to Marine Aircraft group 56 in Santa Ana, California where it received its first CH-46 aircraft. In July 1971, HMM-163 was reassigned to MAG-16 as Marine forces were withdrawn from Southeast Asia. From 1971 through 1978, the squadron supported the 1st Marine Division in numerous operations and exercises along the Pacific coast. The establishment of the Unit deployment program in 1979 brought HMM-163 to MCAS Futenma, Okinawa for six month deployments every 18 months until 1985, when the squadron embarked aboard ship as part of the West Coast Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU). Increased capability and tasking led to the Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) [MEU(SOC)] designation.
Since the inception of the MEU (SOC) concept, HMM-163 has deployed numerous times. These include deployments aboard the USS Peleliu in 1991 for participation in Operation Desert Storm and again in 1994 for Operation Continue Hope, the U.N. mission to Somalia. The squadron returned from a Western Pacific/Arabian Gulf deployment aboard the USS Tarawa as part of the 13th MEU (SOC) in October 1996.
The squadron's performance has been acknowledged by numerous awards. Conduct during Operation FIERY VIGIL in June 1991 earned the Joint Meritorious Unit award. Seven Meritorious Unit Commendations have also been awarded since 1979. The Ridge Runners received the CNO Aviation Safety Award in 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1989. The MCAA Helicopter Squadron of the year award was bestowed upon the unit in 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1990.
In 2001, while deployed with the 15th MEU (SOC), HMM-163 served our country with distinction by participating in combat operations in support of Operation: SWIFT FREEDOM and Operation: ENDURING FREEDOM while forward deployed to the Central Command Theater of Operations. The Evil Eyes planned and executed the longest amphibious assault in American military history with the seizure of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in southern Afghanistan and remained forward deployed for seven weeks.
In 2003 and 2004, the Evil Eyes deployed with the 13th MEU (SOC), and again, the squadron made history by being part of the first Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG-1). The ESG concept focused on combining surface action groups and submarines with traditional Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) and MEUs to offer theater combatant commanders more flexibility and capabilities. The squadron proved its worth by supporting multiple operations and exercises while in the CENTCOM AOR, to include Operation: IRAQI FREEDOM, Operation: SWEENEY, Operation: ENDURING FREEDOM, Exercise IRON MAGIC, and Exercise EDGED MALLET.
During the 13th MEU deployment of 2005, the Evil Eyes served honorably by supporting combat operations in Iraq. The squadron provided Convoy Escort, Close Air Support and Aerial Reconnaissance for the H-1s and AV-8s, and Assault Support and resupply for the CH-46s and CH53s. The Evil Eyes also participated in numerous missions to include: OPERATIONS TRIFECTA, STEEL CURTAIN, IRON HAMMER, LIBERTY EXPRESS, and RIVERGATE in Iraq, and flying a total of 2700 combat flight hours in a 65 day period. The Evil Eyes were once again attached to the 13th MEU (SOC) in 2007 and served admirably in support of Operation: IRAQI FREEDOM 06-08.1. The squadron’s main body as well its detachments flew general support missions, CAS, and escort missions throughout Al Asad, Al Quaim, and Al Taqaddum.
In 2009 and 2011, the Evil Eyes deployed again with the 13th MEU and served admirably executing theatre security cooperation (TSC) exercises and serving as the reserve element for the CENTCOM AOR.
Aboard USS Boxer (LHD 4), the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s aviation combat element, HMM-163, flew more than 2,068 sorties during its seven-month deployment beginning January 2009. With them the UH-1Y Venom made its inaugural deployment. As U.S. Central Command’s floating reserve, the squadron provided a detachment of CH-53E Super Stallions to Al Asad, Iraq, to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and also conducted multinational training exercises in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The expeditionary unit also provided medical and dental outreach and executed a medical evacuation while in the Maldives. When Boxer became the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, they conducted counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, playing a supporting role in the rescue of the crew of the Maersk Alabama and rushed to the aid of the German Navy tanker Spessart.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 flew its last flight of the CH-46E Sea Knight before re-designating as a Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron with MV-22B Ospreys, 30 November 2011. HMM-163 was re-designated as VMM-163, 02 December 2011. Marine Aircraft Group 16 was recently composed of one CH-46E squadron, four MV-22B Osprey squadrons, four CH-53E Super Stallion squadrons, a Personnel Support Detachment and a maintenance and logistics squadron. HMM-163 was the last CH-46E tenant squadron aboard MCAS Miramar, and was the fifth MV-22B Osprey squadron to join MAG-16.
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