CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- After six months of being Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s only helicopter squadron, the Marines of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 are ready to return home to Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.
The HMH-464 helicopter detachment will be replaced by a detachment from HMH-461, their sister unit from New River and the same unit that was deployed here just six months ago.
“I have no doubt that the experience [HMH-461] brings here will contribute to their success out here,” said Marine Maj. David R. Braman, operations officer for the squadron.
Both squadrons, flying the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, support the Horn of Africa with heavy-lift, aerial refuel, long-range capabilities to transport personnel and equipment to assist with CJTF-HOA’s mission to detect, defeat and deter transnational terrorists in the region.
Besides the transport capabilities, HMH-464 detachment, as a part of Marine Corps Central Command-Djibouti, supported service members in the region by providing medical evacuation assets to ensure the safety of troops during training exercises. During the last six months the squadron flew more than 600 flight hours and performed many training evolutions and has dealt with every branch of service in the U.S. military.
“Being here was a unique opportunity,” said Braman, a Beaufort, S.C., native. “Most of these Marine never have been and never will again work in such a joint environment.”
Being deployed in the Horn of Africa has also impacted Marines with HMH-464 in positive ways.
“I liked being a part of something that affects the communities this much,” said Marine Cpl. Luke A. Shoup, a crew chief and Kihei, Hawaii, native, with HMH-464. “It’s great to see us helping people and changing the way people look at Americans.”
The squadron has worked with and transported everyone from Djiboutian military members to ambassadors. One unit HMH-464 trained with heavily was 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” Bravo Company, from Fort Myer, Va.
“We’ve become a well-oiled machine since we first trained together,” he said. “The Old Guard was always very professional.”
Training for the squadron was a challenging aspect of their operations in the region. With the need for aerial support very high, the squadron only had about 13 days a month to train, said Braman.
One of the reasons for having a small amount of days dedicated to training every month is the maintenance requirement of the CH-53E. For every hour of flight, it requires 34 hours of maintenance, said Braman, who is also a pilot for the squadron.
“The mechanics have been doing a great job keeping the birds in top performance,” said Braman.
Another challenge for the detachment was the varying terrain in the Horn of Africa. The region has everything from high mountains to arid deserts, which makes flying a challenge, especially using night vision capabilities.
“The younger pilots received a lot of good training out here,” said the operations officer.
Another thing learned while deployed in Africa was the need for flexibility within the unit. Being flexible is one of the things that led to the success of the detachment here, said Braman.
“ [The members of HMH-464] are a close-knit squadron who were easy to develop a great working relationship with,” said Marine Capt. John T. Fleming, air operation officer for CJTF-HOA. “They were constantly flexible with plans and would do whatever was necessary to support the mission.”