Shhhhhhh….. She’s sleeping…….
Shhhhhhh….. She’s sleeping…….
…And so after 6 short months I bid adieu to the island of Okinawa…
Farewell Futenma flightline,
Bye bye beautiful beaches, and the snorkeling that went with them,
So long seaside sunsets, with your rich dusk colors,
Goodbye drink vending machines that I could find on every street corner,
Au revoir Orion beer, which is only found on Okinawa,
Adios vodka tonics from Panic Bar (and the associated hangovers the next morning),
Have a nice life Habu Trail, for the countless miles I trampled over you have finished,
Until we meet again, endless open Ocean.
A U.S. Air Force HH-60 helicopter crashed while landing at night on Monday, August 5 in the Central Training Area of Okinawa. Unfortunately, one crew member perished and the other three survived as the wreck — partially made up of magnesium — burned up and caught some of the surrounding jungle on fire.
There was very little left of anything resembling a helicopter, but the tiny pieces of melted metal and few larger components totaled thousands of pounds. No military trucks could reach the crash site; it was 1/2 mile from the LZ through thick triple canopy jungle and roughly sloped terrain. The Air Force’s own HH-60’s and the local USMC CH-46’s and MV-22 Ospreys were not capable of performing the external pick-up of the parts. A CH-53E was required.
The exact area was on the 45-degree slope of a hill, so to provide the necessary clearance for the helicopter to be able to hover over the cargo, a nearly football field-sized area of trees had to be cut down. An extra long cargo pendant, also for rotor blade clearance for the trees at the top of the hill, had to be used and was obtained from the Japanese military. All of these complications led to a lengthy delay of the retrieval of the helicopter wreckage, while cultural friction built as some Okinawan civilians voiced their desire to have the debris removed from the jungle on their island.
HMH-772 finally sent a Super Stallion to recover the Air Force HH-60 wreckage on October 12, making over a half dozen externals to successfully bring the metal remains to an LZ with trucks waiting.
We have a hangar, technically, but we aren’t allowed to move into it or perform maintenance in it. The only purpose of the hangar so far has been to shelter the CH-53’s and Cobras inside when the base is at risk from a typhoon. When we stuffed the hangar with all our planes recently, I slowly walked through the quiet open space, taking pictures.
Traditionally, there usually is a squadron and/or shop photo associated with a deployment. Instead of making a mundane shop photo wearing our cammies after the squadron picture, we did ours several days later dressed in our usual working wear of oil-stained coveralls and flight suits. A driving idea behind these shop photos is the aircraft we used had no rotor blades yet, sort of a summary of the difficult battle we’ve had with the helicopters the entire deployment.
Also one trend I’ve noticed over the years is to take one serious-looking picture as well as one with any manner of ridiculous poses. We did both styles for the two different setups.
…..and Goofing off
Instead of working in a traditional hangar, our lack thereof forced us to keep our tools and computers in interlinked white containers called vans. There is something about the sterile quality, and the muted, cool-tone walls that reminded me of a ship. I took several photos of the area over the past several months. The truth is, though, we are hardly ever in them except for a few minutes in the morning, and the last few minutes of the workday before we leave in the evening.
SNCO Van. The Gunny at work
Flightline shop Van
Stanley in the corner
Turning the camera diagonally was the only way to fit the C-130’s wingspan into the picture
Passengers out the side; cargo out with a forklift
I’ll be damned, one of the few photos of me
What bored Marines do when we couldn’t find our computer… make one out of a wooden box
Wolf and Clinger replacing a tail disconnect component
Tail Pylon detail
Rain on the horizon
Venting out the fuel vapor fumes
Fuel Cell maintenance
Wolf, draining out the last drops
Futenma flightline sunset
Super Stallion framed by light
Same as above, but achieved a silhouette effect
So, the last remaining CH-46 squadron here, HMM-262, the Flying Tigers, was slated to turn into an Osprey squadron not long after our arrival, and one morning in mid-August a large gaggle of the ungainly-looking helicopters flew in. I expected the Ospreys sooner or later, but what shocked me was the squadron that the aircraft and people came from.
I quickly recognized the lion’s head emblazoned on the tail fins and the “Y Z” tail code, and written on the fuselages was VMM-363. It was kind of like a swift kick in the nuts to my psyche, seeing these aircraft I’m not very fond of with my old unit’s designation. Not that it’s the same as my 363, HMH-363, since it turned into a unit with completely different people and aircraft in a different location, but sucked nonetheless. Of course, I also received the expected jokes from some of the other more senior guys here since they knew I was a Red Lion, and I had recently put a Red Lion patch on the front of my cranial. “I didn’t know you were a V-22 guy” was probably the most common one I heard the first few days, among some others.
Of course they won’t stay as 363 and once the 262 redesignation takes place, these Ospreys will be marked as VMM-262, with all the other Flying Tigers logos and such.
After learning about a patch-making store that almost every Marine aviation unit has used during their time on Okinawa, I knew there had to be some nice old patches from HMH-363. Most of the Crew Chiefs and Mechanics that taught me when I was a boot in 363 had deployed to Oki with the squadron once or twice, and fellow Kaneohe Bay 53D squadrons 362 and 463 had been there several times. In fact the store, called Tiger Embroidery, is apparently the “go to” place for all military units (American, Japanese, and other foreign nations) to make ‘det’ patches. They keep stacks of previously printed patches as what I assume were extras. Some patches were pretty old; I noticed one 363 patch referencing being on Okinawa in 1991 when Desert Storm was taking place elsewhere, I refrained from buying it though. I did not, however, refrain from buying all the other HMH-363 and CH-53D patches I could find. For me, it was like being a kid in a candy store.
Here are some of the patches I found, and if any old 363 people want me to pick up a patch for them send me an e-mail: email@example.com
I always think of that dumb song when I have to work a weekend. Thanks to Cody Mitchell for that, he would always play the song on the shop radio back in HMH-363’s Flightline shop in Hawaii when there was even the remote chance we might have to work that weekend. Play time was over here, though. We had our fun and our helicopters still needed a lot of work before we could start flying, including some nonsense like pedal popping and full rigs. Honestly, I expected to work a majority of the weekends so having to only do 3 or 4 so far is not bad.
One of several uncomfortable positions mechanics assume during Full Rigs
The Sergeant Major on the prowl
Pushing a several-hundred-pound rollaway toolbox
The start of a job
Discussing Staff NCO things
Finally got our ‘det’ squadron patch for HMH-772(-) Rein. We had to incorporate the important elements of 1) being in Japan, and 2) being a mixed CH-53 and Cobra squadron. It was designed by our very own Flightline Marine, Tristan Clinger.
CH-53E Super Stallion and AH-1W Cobra in foreground, island of Okinawa in front of rising sun theme (black and red, colors of our Cobra guys from HMLA-167). The sun even has a crack in it like the Liberty Bell on the regular 772 logo
As an example, the standard HMH-772(-) squadron logo
The Cobra detachment that combined with us, from 167
Not that I cared to wear it, but they had shoulder patches made. I guess shoulder patched are bigger with Huey and Cobra units than the rest of the Marine Corps helicopter community. Most of the Cobra guys arrived wearing the 167 shoulder patch “Have Guns Will Travel”. Somebody here bastardized it to reflect our combined unit with 53’s in front of the Cobras, of course.
The basis for the deployment shoulder patch