AL ASAD, Iraq --
History is a big part of the Marine Corps, every Marine is taught to honor the legacy of the first Leathernecks in 1775. Tradition has permeated so far into the Marines that it is not just the history of the Corps that Devil Dogs honor, but the feats of individual units as well.
Marines in one of the oldest heavy helicopter squadrons in the Marine Corps, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, are upholding a tradition of excellence that has extended almost 25 years with 70,000 Class A mishap-free flight hours.
“Its very rare,” said Lt. Col. Brian Cavanaugh, the Ugly Angels’ commanding officer. “Hardly any squadrons get this high, so we’ve been fortunate to reach this milestone. It’s a good mark, and we want to keep it going. Especially in combat, because it’s not like flying at home in the states, it’s desert (operations) with a high operational tempo. To be able to continue to do things safely is a testament to the high caliber of the Marines.”
The squadron’s mishap-free streak, which started March 28, 1983, is an accomplishment that has taken years of hard work, according to Maj. Richard Matyskiela, the HMH-362 operations officer.
Part of that hard work was completed in combat. Since they arrived in Iraq the squadron has flown just over 2,800 hours, according to Matyskiela, a Silverdale, Pa., native.
“That’s four to five times what we fly back in (Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii),” said Matyskiela. “Every aircraft out here is at about 60 hours per month. And along with that, our maintainers are doing a few years worth of maintenance out here. In six months out here they are probably getting a good two years worth of maintenance under their belt. Out maintainers are doing a phenomenal job out here.”
The “Ugly Angels” of HMH-362 have a deep history that dates back 55 years. They have the proud distinction of being the first Marine aircraft unit to deploy in support of the Vietnam War, and they also currently have the oldest CH-53D “Sea Stallion” in the Marine Corps, according to Cavanaugh.
“This squadron has a rich history,” said Cavanaugh, a Baltimore native. “We celebrated our 55th anniversary this year back in April. So this is one of the older squadrons in the Marine Corps. This squadron was in Vietnam, it was in the first Gulf War, it’s been to Haiti. So there is a lot of tradition, a lot of heritage, within the unit. This is just another benchmark to show that this squadron is a very, very good squadron. One of the best in the Marine Corps.”
The Marines of HMH-362 operate the same way they have done for the last 55 years, by the book. It is the dedication of the junior Marines that has allowed the Ugly Angels to continue the streak as long as they have, according to Capt. Nick Turner, an HMH-362 pilot and the flightline officer in charge.
“The pilots and the officers don’t do it around here,” said Turner, an Elliot, Iowa native. “I mean, sure we give a little guidance, but it’s the sergeants and below. They are the pulse of the squadron. Our frontline is out there on the flightline making sure that the aircraft are mission ready. And they do it with a smile on their face, without a complaint, every day. It’s impressive.”
Turner, who is the pilot credited with flying the mission that helped the squadron reach the latest milestone, attributes the Marines’ pride in their squadron and in maintaining the reputation they have built over the years to their success.
“They have an enormous sense of pride, not only in this aircraft but in this squadron,” explained Turner. “They know the great history of this squadron, I mean it goes all the way back to 1962 in Vietnam. My dad was an original Ugly Angel back in 1965 in Vietnam. They have an enormous amount of pride, not only in the aircraft and the history, but in preserving it.”
From the moment a Marine arrives at the squadron, they are taught the history of the Ugly Angels, and they become part of the Ugly Angels family, according to Lance Cpl. Jorge Toledo, a crew chief with HMH-362
“It definitely motivates us, especially when we watch old videos of the squadron that date back as far as Vietnam,” said Toledo. “As the years went along, we’ve always remained Ugly Angels. It’s just the way we do things. It’s 100 percent all the time, no less. Whenever you feel down you think about what the people did that were here before you, and it motivates you to keep on going, to work that much harder to get things done.”
So the Ugly Angels are celebrating their latest achievement, and looking forward to adding more to their long list of accomplishments.
“People come and go, but the way the Ugly Angels do things remains the same,” said Turner. “This patch has stayed the same the whole time. Regardless of who’s been here, nothing’s changed.”