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By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Chelsea Milburn, Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve Public Affairs
The “Firehawks” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 85 gathered in 1920s-themed attire to celebrate the holidays at the Admiral Baker Golf Course on Naval Base Coronado, Dec. 3.
For the majority of “Firehawks,” this holiday party was unlike any they’d seen as it was the first time they celebrated together without feeling the absence of “Firehawks” on deployment.
HSC-85’s most recent detachment returned from a six-month deployment out of Kadena, Japan, Sep. 29. The homecoming marked only the second time all “Firehawks” have been stateside since their first deployment in 2013, with only a small break in 2018 to transition from the HH-60H to the MH-60S.
During the deployment, the detachment flew 161 sorties and 509 flight hours, primarily in support of special operations forces (SOF). HSC-85, a Navy Reserve squadron, has operated as the Navy’s only SOF-dedicated squadron since the decommissioning of the HSC-84 “Red Wolves” in 2015.
“We participated in [Combat Search and Rescue Exercise (CSARTE) 2022] in Osan, Republic of Korea, in late March to early April,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Trask, who served as the detachment’s assistant officer in charge (AOIC) for the early months of the deployment. “It’s an exercise run by the U.S. Air Force 25th Fighter Squadron to work in U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Korean aviation assets to build an overall CSAR exercise for the peninsula of Korea.”
“In May, we were asked to support a presidential movement when President Biden visited Korea,” Trask continued. “We were given 72-hour notice to move three helicopters and our maintenance personnel from Kadena to work out of Seoul Air Base.”
Lt. Cmdr. Eric Page, who turned over with Trask as AOIC for the deployment’s latter half, explained that the squadron’s unique ability to move with minimal logistics support allowed the detachment to participate in a wide variety of exercises and training evolutions.
“There aren’t really any fleet squadrons comfortable or practiced in putting everything on the back of a C-17 or dealing with putting things on C-130s, then going and flying,” said Page. “In the span of seven months, we did two movements to Korea, one to Atsugi, Japan, and ultimately, our redeployment home.”
“Certainly, there were a lot of headaches with doing so many movements,” said Trask, “but I think it only added to our Sailors’ motivation because we were invited to support the exercises and events we did because of the recognition of our caliber. When the movement is over, and you recognize and communicate what the team accomplished, there’s a huge sense of pride.”
The pride of the “Firehawks” not only comes from their unique mission and capability, but also from their strong sense of heritage.
“The genesis of this unit starts with HAL-3 Seawolves, established April 1, 1967,” said Chief Naval Aircrewman Helicopter Keith Holt. “They were the Navy’s first dedicated SOF support squadron in Vietnam. My first senior chief here was trained by the guys of HAL-3. We have such a strong heritage here, and he passed it down to me, and I pass it down to my guys. We welcome the ‘Seawolves' here. We have ‘Seawolf’ memorabilia. When the ‘Seawolves’ do reunions, they do it here.”
The “Firehawks” have taken several opportunities to honor their heritage and connection to the “Seawolves.”
In early October, HSC-85 escorted HAL-3 veterans for “Honor Flight.” “3 ‘Firehawks’ accompanied the ‘Seawolves,’” said Holt. “They met them at the terminal, went to Washington D.C. and visited Arlington National Cemetery with them.”
As HAL-3 never got their welcome home after being disestablished while still in Vietnam, HSC-85 held a welcome home celebration for them in the HSC-85 hangar on Naval Base Coronado in 2020 with as many “Seawolves” as were able to attend. The hangar is still home to the ceremony’s “welcome home” sign today.
HSC-85’s most recent homecoming, with Sailors in flight suits and working uniforms cheering alongside family and friends holding signs and radiating excitement, is a testament to the squadron’s unique appreciation for the value of celebrating a safe return home.
As the “Firehawks” relax and enjoy the holidays at home with their loved ones, Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve (CNAFR) reflects on the hard work, dedication and commitment to mission HSC-85 Sailors have shown during their most recent deployment and those over the past nine years.
CNAFR mans, trains and equips the Naval Air Force Reserve in order to provide enduring operational support and strategic depth to Navy forces that win in combat.