4-Aug-2022 Source: US Navy
The Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 — commonly called the “Saberhawks” — conducted an in-flight change of command ceremony, while flying from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), Aug. 1.
Cmdr. Nicholas Cunningham officially turned over duties as commanding officer for HSM-77 to Cmdr. Blade Schallenberger.
“It’s been humbling to return to the Saberhawks over the past two and a half years. The personal strength our Sailors have shown from COVID and pre-deployment sequestration, to becoming the only Forward-Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) all Advanced Data Transfer System (ADTS) MH-60R squadron is inspiring,” said Cunningham. “We continue to create opportunities for Saberhawks to shape their future that simply don’t exist anywhere else in HSM or the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) communities. From our 25% advancement rate, to our first tour pilots averaging over 1000 hours, or keeping aircraft in the air for eight straight days with 250 hours flown, the Saberhawks continue to provide combat ready personnel and MH-60Rs supporting WORLDWIDE deployed operations EVERY, SINGLE, YEAR!”
Cunningham took command in 2020, and led the squadron through deployments to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleets embarked aboard the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN) 76. During their time in 5th Fleet, HSM-77 provided air support for U.S. troops, and over 7,000 evacuees, for the largest non-combatant evacuation operation in history in support of Operations Allies Refuge and Freedom Sentinel.
While under Cunningham’s command, HSM-77 participated in numerous trainings and exercises alongside partners from France, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom; to include several multi-carrier operations in the Arabian and Philippine Seas with Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 21 and HMS Queen Elizabeth, as well as the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH 182) and the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) CSG.
In March of 2022, HSM-77 was awarded the Phoenix Award for Superior Maintenance. That same month the squadron performed the first bi-lateral helicopter Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) torpedo exercise within the 7th Fleet area of responsibility; alongside the JMSDF’s “Mighty 59” of Air Development Squadron (VX) 51.
Cmdr. Cunningham’s next assignment will be Bureau of Naval Personnel in Millington,
Prior to taking on the role of commanding officer of HSM-77, Cmdr. Schallenberger served as the Saberhawks executive officer.
“Taking over command of Saberhawks, what an honor! I’m excited to have the opportunity to lead the Sailors of HSM-77,” said Schallenberger. “Recognized for their professionalism and toughness, HSM-77 is always leading from the front. FDNF is a demanding, yet rewarding, environment and the Saberhawks prove they are mission ready year in and year out without waiver. Following Cmdr. Nicholas “BD” Cunningham, will be no small feat. He, Anne and the girls have given so much to the Saberhawks and for that I personally say thank you. On his third set of orders to Japan, Nick has a sensational drive and doesn’t take “NO” for an answer. He continues when most quit. Thank you for guiding the Saberhawks to success at every turn. I would be remised if I did not thank my family and friends for the support they have given me over our years in the Navy. Without a doubt, I would not be here if it weren’t for their support. Alli, Mason, Logan, Regan and Byrnn – Thank you, thank you, thank you! Team Schallenberger continues to strive and that’s what makes this Naval journey worth it. Excited to see where the next year takes us, love you!”
Both men served on HSM-77 early in their naval aviation careers and returned to take on important leadership roles as senior officers.
HSM-77 is forward-deployed to Naval Air Facility Atsugi and embarks aboard USS Ronald Reagan in the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet Area of Operations in support of security and stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific.