By Cmdr. Rich Whitfield
HSM-40 Commanding Officer
As three Sailors assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) Wing Atlantic survey the row of helicopters stretching to the horizon on Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB) in Alabama, the magnitude of what they have already accomplished or of what they are about to accomplish never even crosses their minds. These three Sailors are just a few of the 63 maintainers and 124 aircrew who came together over a period of 36 hours from the HSM Weapons School Atlantic and from squadrons HSM-40, HSM-46, HSM-48, HSM-72 and HSM-74.
Their mission was simple: prior to Hurricane Irma's arrival, evacuate as many MH-60R Sea Hawks from the naval installations in Jacksonville and Mayport, Florida, as soon as possible and preposition the U.S. Navy's contingent of helicopter support for U.S. Northern Command's Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission. The truly remarkable fact in this entire evolution is that many of these helicopters were broken down into one phase of scheduled maintenance or another as they prepared for upcoming worldwide deployments. The squadrons involved, put them all back together in 36 hours and flew them all to Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB).
While pilots and the aircrew prepared for the flight and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions, it was a group of hard working, unconquerable, Sailors who moved the mountains to make it all possible. Not only did they get all 31 MH-60R aircraft to Maxwell AFB, shortly after arriving and setting up shop, they were given less than 12 hours-notice to relocate the entire force to Keesler AFB in Mississippi, which is 250 miles away. Within minutes of the force reconstituting on Keesler AFB, they were directed to move 12 hours later to Cecil Field in Florida (400 miles away).
These often unsung heroes routinely move mountains and overcome the seemingly impossible. The spirit of family and unflinching acceptance of challenges that most shrink away from is the core characteristic that makes our Navy the best in the world. As I watch these young men and women do their country's bidding without complaint, but rather with smiles and dogged determination to succeed for the sake of their shipmates and their country, I am inspired every day to do a little better than I did the day before.
In the wake of Hurricane Irma's path of destruction, the Sailors of HSM Wing Atlantic will have mobilized and launched more than 60 MH-60Rs (the same number of aircraft in a carrier air wing that is supported by multiple type wings) in a matter of days, to an aircraft carrier, two amphibious assault ships , one amphibious transport dock ship, and two Air Force bases . . . something I have never seen in 22 years commissioned service by a single type wing with as little time. I, for one, am honored to be associated with these heroes.