USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC/JCC-20) -- Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is currently fighting in the war against terrorism. Originally comprised of Marines and Sailors from 2d Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C., the force is now a diverse mixture that includes soldiers and airmen.
The aircrew assigned to the ship is operating with H-46D Sea Knights from Air Squadron-6, Norfolk Naval Base, Va.
The helicopters have logged many hours. One has flown approximately 10,000 hours including action in Vietnam where it received battle damage. Another has flown even longer, surpassing 15,000 service hours.
"We are here as an air department to provide logistics support, force protection, Search And Rescue/Medical Evacuations and some special warfare capabilities to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa," said Lt. Jason D. Stevens, assistant officer-in-charge. "Thus far we have accomplished what we came out here to do, helping with vertical replenishments, medevacs and have even used our force protection capabilities in such places as the Straits of Gibraltar."
The aircrew consists of pilots, crewmen and other service members with various jobs such as electricians, hydraulics technicians and structural mechanics. These service members work around the clock in two twelve hour shifts keeping the "Phrogs," as the helos are known, in top running condition.
The helos capabilities include flying as long as one hour and 45 minutes between refueling, 4,000 pounds lift capacity, and the ability to carry eight to 15 people in ideal weather conditions. The helicopters require 26 man-hours of maintenance per every flight-hour.
"We are either flying or maintaining," said Stevens, native of Knox, N.Y.
As with most here, orders for this deployment came in a hurry, and there wasn't a lot of time to prepare.
"We had a lot of last minute training that included the use of night vision goggles," said Stevens. "We performed extensive maintenance to the helicopters ahead of time as well, because we knew we wouldn't have hangars out here to work in."
For some people, even though flying is their job, it can bring back old memories, sometimes memories that are not very pleasant.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Cliff B. Lyons, aviation electronics technician and H-46D Sea Knight crew chief, was working on his first day of his first deployment last year when he was involved in a crash while USS Seattle was conducting a vertical replenishment with USNS Mount Baker.
Luckily everyone made it out alive.
Learning how hard it is to gain back the trust for flying that he once had, Lyons now finds himself here less than two months after returning from that deployment, fighting in the war against terrorism.
"My brother is a crewman now and I hope he has paid attention and will learn from some of the things that I have done and been through," said Lyons.
Each of these crewmembers has unique responsibilities, but they all have the same common bond: to support CJTF-HOA in the war against terrorism.
"We are constantly looking, and everyday we find new ways to contribute," said Stevens.