CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- Since Vietnam, the “Gunfighters” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 have proven themselves a versatile unit ready to support the Marine Air Ground Task Force time and again in combat and humanitarian efforts around the globe.
Their final missions complete in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, HMLA-369 transferred authority to HMLA-467, deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, during a midnight ceremony aboard Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, May 24, 2014.
Now, as HMLA-369 prepares to redeploy to Camp Pendleton, California, they can proudly say they have successfully carried out more than 1,500 missions totaling 4,787 flight hours while in Helmand province.
“I was incredibly proud of how the Marines performed on this deployment,” said Lt. Col. Tres Smith, commanding officer of HMLA-369. “This is our third deployment here in Afghanistan as a squadron and I think every single Marine stepped up and did a fantastic job.”
“Out here in Afghanistan operations are really high,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rudy Maldonado, air frames division chief with HMLA-369 and a Houston native. The number of Marines we brought (did) an outstanding job. All my junior Marines, sergeant and below, they carry everything in this work center for us and throughout the squadron.”
The Gunfighters’ missions vary from offensive air support to utility support and armed escorts, all day or night. Their biggest mission was a multi-day operation in support of the last Marines to leave the Sangin Valley, May 3-5. Though it was a very busy time, the Marines of HMLA-369 performed above the high standard to which they hold themselves.
The motivation to complete the combat mission was unwavering from the Gunfighters, and although the squadron was few in number, their tasks were many. They were responsible for maintaining, cleaning and manning all of the squadron’s UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1W Cobras in addition to running multiple missions a day.
“We were very busy and I think the Marines knew that, so we all worked very hard,” said Smith. “I was very pleased with the efforts that they made.”
After Smith passed the squadron’s guidon to Sgt. Maj. Larry Buenafe, Lt. Col. Matthew Sale, commanding officer of HMLA-467, received the Saber’s guidon from squadron’s sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. John Kennedy, signifying the full transfer of authority. Both commanders then took time to speak with the Sabers and Gunfighters.
“It doesn’t matter what number is on this guidon, or who’s standing up here right now, it’s the HMLA community,” said Sale. “This is all about you. We just got on deck, we got to keep the momentum going, clean it up and bring it home. (Gunfighters), you have taught us the way and I appreciate all the professionalism and guidance you have provided and we are set to take this from you. It is well deserved that you guys are going home.”
Once Smith had thanked his Gunfighters for all their hard work and dedication he turned his attention to welcoming the Sabers to the fight. Although HMLA-467 has only been a squadron for five years and is on its first combat deployment since its establishment, Smith was confident in the squadron taking over as the last HMLA to serve in Afghanistan.
“For the Sabers, man, you guys got a big job coming,” he said. “You guys are going to close the door, and you will always be remembered as the HMLA that closed the door. Lieutenant Colonel Sale, after watching your guys, you’re ready to take the mantle and I will be very proud to watch what you guys do and carry on that HMLA name. So for the Sabers congratulations, have a good time, I’ll read about you in the history books.”