MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) — Sailors from Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 Det. 2 forward-deployed to the U.S. Navy’s aviation unit in Bahrain have provided essential support to flooding relief efforts in Pakistan since these efforts began in early August.
The HM 15 team logged more than 240 flight hours, evacuated 3,360 people to safety and delivered more than 800,000 pounds of humanitarian aid/disaster (HA/DR) relief supplies in support of the Pakistani government and military relief operations.
U.S. military aircraft supporting Pakistan’s flood relief efforts achieved a significant milestone Sept. 11, delivering more than 5 million pounds of relief supplies since U.S. military relief flight operations began in Pakistan Aug. 5.
HM-15, nicknamed the “Blackhawks,” operates the MH-53E Sea Dragon, and is homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. The squadron is staffed by both active duty and Reserve personnel, and is the first squadron in the Navy to combine and consolidate training requirements between those two components.
Using the Sea Dragon in normal day-to-day operations, the squadron patrols foreign and domestic waters to locate and destroy sea-based mines that could harm watercraft, and to map safe sea lanes of travel. Due to the heavy-lift capabilities of the MH-53, the squadron also can perform assault support and transport cargo when deployed.
HM-15 Det. 2’s maintenance crews in Bahrain keep the helicopters flying.
“The aircraft fly every day and are put through some tough constraints,” Aviation Electricians Mate 3rd Class Andrew Titus said, describing his role in the maintenance cycle. “I am one of the first to have any contact with it when they return. It’s my job as plane captain to evaluate it and turn it around to be ready for flight the next day.”
When a helicopter returns from flying relief supplies to Pakistan, HM 15 mechanics on the ground quickly evaluate and prioritize the needs of the aircraft to have it ready for flight, which is often the next morning.
“Because we fly so much, the aircraft requires immediate attention,” Titus explained. “We have to do our job efficiently and thoroughly. If we missed a crucial component, it would affect the mission. It could affect the safety of flight.”
Pilot Lt. Andrew Kouness said the Pakistan mission is one of the most challenging he has been involved with, and the most rewarding.
“We operate in an environment with high altitudes and challenging terrain,” he said. “The helo operates different in the mountains than it does at sea level – with increased performance.”
Kouness also expressed that the increased performance also increases pilots’ attention to detail as well as the plane captains’ attention to every aspect of the aircraft.
He continued to explain that because Pakistani mountain regions were so tight, flying required precise entry and exit points. This capability to provide support is a result of the hard work in the hangar and attention to detail HM 15 Sailors practice to keep their aircraft flying, while delivering HA/DR supplies.
“On this mission, we fly to the power margins that the helo provides. We put an extra constraint on the aircraft and it puts an extra workload on the plane captains. But, my aircraft is always ready for flight because of the professionals working around us,” Kouness said.
Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said the dedication of HM-15’s Sailors is what makes their team successful.
“The entire HM-15 team has performed spectacularly in front of the whole world. Their professionalism contributed to the success of the HA/DR mission,” said Fox. “They provided a much-needed lift capability using excellent teamwork.”
Kouness said this mission of providing humanitarian support to Pakistan would be memorable in his Navy career.
“It’s every helicopter pilot’s dream to be able to go out and use the aircraft the way it was designed to be used,” he said. “None of this would be possible without our plane captains and dedicated mechanics on the ground.”
Titus also recognizes the importance of his efforts and how they impact the mission, far from the Bahrain hangar where he maintains the detachment’s helicopters.
“I take pride in what I do and realize the importance of my job and the direct support I gave to this mission,” he said.
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