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With a half-century of service behind it and a dynamic future ahead of it, United States Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM-364) Purple Foxes celebrated its 50th anniversary and the Marine Corps 236th birthday over several days from Nov. 10 to 12.
Based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the unit was established on Sept. 1, 1961 in Santa Ana, Calif. (although it was deactivated from 1971 to 1984). Having begun operations with the piston-powered Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse, HMM-364 operates the venerable Boeing-Vertol CH-46E Phrog helicopter and will be transitioning to the tiltrotor Bell/Boeing MV-22B in the future.
Since 2003, HMM-364 has made five deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and on Nov. 11, the squadron hosted a ceremony adding the Iraqi Freedom battle streamer with four bronze stars to its battle colors (this streamer is in addition to nine others on the HMM-364 battle colors). The squadron flew combat, casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), humanitarian, logistical, and command and control missions in Iraq. Tragically, during this time two HMM-364 aircraft and their crews were lost while on deployment. During the ceremony, these flight crews were honored and remembered.
One surprise for HMM-364s 50th anniversary was having a CH-46E beautifully painted by renowned aircraft artist Shayne Meder. Meder and her assistant, Roxanne Johnson, spent the week before the anniversary painting helicopter No. 13 with a rendition of the squadrons mascot Swifty the Purple Fox and a 50th anniversary emblem. Meder has been painting U.S. Navy helicopters and other aircraft with unique tail markings since 1999, and her services are always in high demand. She told Vertical, Its always exciting to paint aircraft for our military, but painting HMM-364s aircraft for their 50th anniversary was a true honor and I was excited when they asked me to do it.
After having spent most of the last decade land-based and deployed, HMM-364 will once again begin Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) cycles. During an MEU, a Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron enlarges itself into a Reinforced, or REIN, Squadron. For this, different aircraft from other squadrons become part of the REIN Squadron (in this case, four heavy-lift Sikorsky CH-53Es, four attack Bell AH-1Z Vipers, three utility Bell UH-1Y Venoms and six McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier jump jets). After a six-month work up and training cycle, HMM-364 (REIN) and its aircraft will deploy on a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) for a seven-month world cruise.
Farther into the future, as with all HMM squadrons, HMM-364 will transition to the MV-22B Osprey. The unit will then train its crews for the new airframe and become a Marine Medium Tiltrotor (VMM) Squadron. Until then, HMM-364 will continue to operate the still-capable and much-loved CH-46E Phrog.
[Its] a very special time to be a CH-46 squadron, said HMM-364 commanding officer Lt. Col. Ed Tard Jeep. As the community dwindles in size, we can rightly take pride in our material and training readiness, and in the fact that the aircraft is still ready for combat, anywhere, anytime. Excellent stewardship and decisions all the way from HQMC down to the individual Marine level have kept our beloved battlephrog in shape to fight our countrys wars. With the newest upgrades and a squad of Marines embarked, the CH-46E remains the worlds deadliest, most survivable and most capable assault support platform.