MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Colonel David R. Leppelmeier relinquished command of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 to Lt. Col. James B. Hanlon during a change of command ceremony at the parade field, July 8.
Leppelmeier took command of the “Rhinos” July 8, 2003. Under his command, MWSS-374 received the James E. Hatch Award for Marine Wing Support Squadron of the year in 2004.
According to the citation, the award was given for superior performance from May 1, 2003 to April 30, 2004 in support of Marine Corps Aviation. The Marines and Sailors of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 consistently displayed success in providing continual aviation ground support to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing during operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Furthermore, the “Rhinos” aided anti-drug operations with Joint Task Force Six in three states.
The squadron took part in Exercise Desert Talon, which was a training evolution for their deployment to Iraq and prepared them for the countless missions required.
“This squadron not only exceeded any expectation, but they did it with great valor, great courage and it was led from the front,” said Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force, who was present at the ceremony.
Leppelmeier was born in Bay Shore, Long Island, N.Y., and raised in Babylon, N.Y. He graduated from Letourneau University in Longview, Texas, in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business aviation.
Leppelmeier’s military education includes The Basic School, Naval Aviation Flight Training, Landing Signal Officer School, Amphibious Warfare School, Tactical Air Control Party School, and Command and Staff College.
During his career, Leppelmeier has accumulated more than 4,000 mishap-free flight hours, which includes flight hours in the F-4 Phantom and the F/A-18 Hornet. He has flown 97 combat missions.
Leppelmeier has served overseas, which included being aboard the USS Midway in 1989; he also participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 in 2004.
Leppelmeier’s personal decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Four Air Medals, the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V,” and the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
“The greatest responsibility a commander can have is to have the opportunity to take his hard-charging Marines and Sailors into a combat zone,” said Leppelmeier addressing the guests. “Standing in front of you today is the finest squadron in the Marine Corps, the finest group of combat veterans in our country.”
Leppelmeier turned to address the men and women of his squadron.
“My Marines, you are the most precious asset in our country,” said Leppelmeier pausing for a moment to swallow his emotion. “You’ve accomplished some amazing things. You never complained. You worked 20 hours a day in dirty coveralls, for nothing more than a thank you. You moved mountains and built cities. You patched up the wounded; you went into nasty little towns. You disarmed [improvised explosive devices] so no one would get hurt. You went into downtown Fallujah, [extinguished] a burning light armored vehicle and pulled Marines out of it.”
Leppelmeier has orders to attend the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He stated that he would surely miss the “Rhinos.”
“I’ll never be the same because of you,” said Leppelmeier. “I will remember every single one of you - every nametag; every rank; every single thing I’ve done these last two years with you all–I will never forget. I will never be the same. Job well done Rhinos!”
Hanlon, a Connecticut native, graduated from Husson College in Bangor, Maine, in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. After working as a construction contractor he entered Officer Candidate School in 1989 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Following commissioning, Hanlon attended The Basic School, Infantry Officers’ Course and Naval Aviation Flight Training. In 1990, he was designated a Naval Aviator and assigned to Marine Helicopter Training Squadron 303 were he was qualified as a UH-1N pilot.
Hanlon’s personal decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with three Strike/Flight Awards, Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with two gold stars and a Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Hanlon began his address to the guests and Marines by expressing thanks and modesty; he thanked Leppelmeier and the Marines he worked with throughout his career; he then turned to the Marines of MWSS-374 and expressed his thanks.
“Marines of MWSS-374, you all need to know how truly honored I am standing before you,” said Hanlon. He shared a story of his deployment to Iraq, when he was leading a flight of Hueys, and was stopping between missions at a resupply point manned by a support squadron similar to what MWSS-374’s mission was in Iraq.
“When we landed we were immediately surrounded by Marines who were putting gas in our [helicopters]; jamming rockets in our tubes; giving us bullets; asking if we needed chow or water. It was amazing,” said Hanlon.
Hanlon said having a reliable place to count on and feel safe at between missions for refueling and arming was invaluable to him and his aircrew.
“On behalf of me and [the other pilots], I thank you,” said Hanlon.
Hanlon said he awaits to serve with a reliable squadron that made him and his aircrew feel safe in Iraq.
“I truly look forward to deploying with you and commanding such a professional unit,” said Hanlon.
Hanlon is married to the former Heather Pauline Hillery of Yuma, Ariz., and has a son, Jayson, and a daughter, Kelly.