AL ASAD, Iraq -- History is about being the first at something. Lewis and Clark were first at completing a United States overland expedition to the Pacific coast and back, the Wright brothers were the first in flight, and the Marine Corps is known as the first to fight.
Although the Marine Corps as a whole holds an illustrious history, individual units also have their own stories. The “Ugly Angels” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, who have their fair share of firsts, recently celebrated their squadron’s history, April 30.
“It’s our 55th year of excellence,” said Lt. Col. Brian W. Cavanaugh, the HMH-362 commanding officer. “This squadron has seen combat in Vietnam and Desert Storm, and has participated in other operations such as Haiti.”
The Ugly Angels were the first squadron to receive a CH-53D in 1969. Later, they would hold the distinction of having served as the first Marine aircraft unit in Vietnam. In March of 2002, HMH-362 opened a new chapter when it became the first CH-53D squadron from Marine Aircraft Group 24 assigned to the Marine Corps’ Unit Deployment Program at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
“I have been blessed, It’s an honor and a privilege,” said Cavanaugh about serving as the Ugly Angels commanding officer. “To command (a squadron) is an honor and when I selected for this squadron I was floored. I served with the Ugly Angels as the maintenance officer before. (The squadron) is better (now), the foundation was layed in the late 90s and it holds sharp still today. It’s good to know that the hard work put in over the 55 years is holding strong.”
The Ugly Angels, who are based out of Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, are currently serving a seven-month deployment here.
“We are pretty much cargo and troop transport,” said Sgt. Joshua Groh, a crew chief and mechanic for HMH-362. “Pilots fly the plane, crew chiefs are in charge of the back. We work with the aerial observer to load packs and cargo and move everything from point A to point B.”
From the maintenance control to the crew chiefs, everyone in the squadron is putting in their part to accomplish the mission.
“Operations are going smoothly; everybody is working hard, training hard,” said Cavanaugh. “We are prepared mentally and physically.”
Safety is an important aspect in the Marine Corps, and for the Ugly Angels that is the number one priority.
“Safety is always the first mission,” said Staff Sgt. Jaime Cortez, the maintenance administration staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “We have the second oldest aircraft in the Marine Corps and some have a lot of flight hours. We take all that into consideration, so we make sure that we dot the i’s and cross the T’s.”
One of the biggest factors that make the squadron so successful is their dedication to their work.
“These Marines bust their butts,” said Sgt. Maj. Alphonso Mack, the HMH-362 sergeant major. “What I like about the Marines in this squadron is that on the ground side you sound liberty call and they are gone, here you sound liberty call they are not leaving until that bird is up. Their whole thing is that the bird might have to go in and save somebody’s life.
That is the most amazing thing that I have ever seen.”
Although the Ugly Angels of past left some pretty big boots to fill, Cavanaugh believes that his Marines are strapping them on and running with them.
“(The Marines) are holding up strong,” said Cavanaugh. “We get e-mails from Vietnam era crew chiefs congratulating them. The Marines are working hard serving their country honorably.”
The knowledge that their job can directly affect one of their fellow Marines, is used to motivate the Ugly Angels.
“I think these guys know what is expected of them, because I didn’t let them forget,” explained Mack. “I didn’t want them to come out here with blinders on because they heard that Al Asad (was easy). Luckily I have been (in Iraq) before and I was able to share with them my experiences and that those Marines out there need and depend on them. It has made them realize their mission and if something is wrong on one of the birds they are on it quick.”
The performance of the Ugly Angels so far has been nothing short of outstanding and serves as an indicator for the rest of the deployment, according to Cavanaugh.
“I think this deployment will go smoothly,” said Cavanaugh. “We are going to refine the process, try to make things run more efficient. Try to make things better and create a better product.”