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KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – On April 15, 1962, a squadron of Marines launched from the USS Princeton to Soc Trang, Vietnam, becoming the first Marine helicopter squadron in-country. Those Marines began a proud tradition of combat deployments that day. Today the same unit continues their combat tradition in Afghanistan.
Unlike the majority of units serving in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, part of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan's aviation combat element, didn't deploy from its home station at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii – it deployed to Afghanistan from Al Asad, Iraq.
Originally deployed to Iraq, Jan. 23, to conduct assault support, logistics and movement of personnel missions, the unit was given a new mission shortly after arriving: pack up and go to Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is where the fight is now," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey A. Hagan, HMH-362's commander. "There was a planned drawdown in Iraq and an increasing need for medium lift capabilities in Afghanistan. So we begin making arrangements to move from Al Asad to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan."
Though the unit was motivated and prepared for their new mission, environmental differences between the two theaters coupled with operational requirements called for major modifications to the Ugly Angels' CH-53D Sea Stallions.
The unit's maintenance Marines began working around the clock to exchange the T64-GE-413 engines, typically found in CH-53Ds, to hotter burning T64-GE-416 engines used in CH-53E Super Stallions, according to Master Sgt. Robert Webb, the maintenance section chief.
In addition to the modifications, the Marines had to partially dismantle their aircraft for transportation to Afghanistan; each bird was sent one at a time. But despite their daunting task, the Marines pulled together, rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
"Our maintenance Marines are the best in the Marine Corps," said Maj. Gary W. Thomason, HMH-362's aircraft maintenance officer. "On their backs is how we made this happen. I think I speak for everyone involved when I say, fantastic job."
After more than two months of backbreaking work, the Ugly Angels are in Afghanistan, eager to take the fight to the enemy.
"This deployment has been a great experience," said Cpl. Jorge Toledo, a crew chief and flight line mechanic with HMH-362. "We've been able to operate in both areas of operation and it's been a good training opportunity with the demanding terrain and climate differences. Since arriving in Afghanistan, I personally was able to be a part of testing seven aircraft in twelve days. I have gained more experience on this one deployment than my whole time in the Marine Corps."
Today, the Marines and their Sea Stallions are ready to tackle whatever the insurgency and Afghanistan's terrain throw at them.
"We expect the mission set to remain relatively the same," Hagan said. "Given the more kinetic nature of this theater, I would expect to see more raid and quick reaction force support than was executed during our time in Iraq. But the Marines are excited and eager to do what Marines do. This deployment has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that my Marines can, are eager and willing to accomplish any task thrown at them."
On April 15, the 47-year anniversary of the unit's Vietnam deployment, The Ugly Angels arrived in Afghanistan. HMH-362 began combat operations, April 22.