MOLUCCA SEA - Cmdr. Kenneth P. Ward relieved Cmdr. Lonnie L. Appleget as commanding officer of the ‘Saberhawks’ of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 during an airborne change of command ceremony with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), July 4.
Appleget, a plankowner of George Washington, completed his command tour not only on the ship’s 23rd anniversary but also on Independence Day. Appleget’s tour is just one of the many accomplishments during his career as a naval aviator. Upon returning to the U.S. from his present duty station in Atsugi, Japan, Appleget will attend the Dwight D. Eisenhower School at the National Defense University in Washington, DC where he will earn a Graduate Degree in National Resource Strategy.
“The Saberhawks are a family to me. Having the opportunity to be a part of this team will forever be a source of pride for me,” said Appleget. “One of the biggest highlights for me was our earning the 2014 Pacific Fleet Retention Excellence Award. Considering the squadrons high operational tempo, the lack of no-fly days, the deployment separations and the separations from family and friends that come with Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) duty...it is a great feeling to know that in light of all of that Sailors still want to re-enlist, are promoting above Navy averages and overall enjoy being part of the team. To me, that was a true metric that this squadron is doing things well.”
Ward’s command tour is just the latest in a long career as a naval officer. He served with the ‘Vipers’ of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 48 in support of counter narcotics operations embarked on USS Mcinerney (FFG 8), participated in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom embarked on USS San Jacinto (CG 56), forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan on USS Juneau (LPD 10) as the Air Officer and forward deployed as the maintenance officer to the ‘Warlords’ of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 51 in Atsugi, Japan, as well as HSL 51 Detachment Four Officer-in-Charge embarked on USS Shiloh (CG 67). He has more than 2,400 flight hours and approximately 1,700 shipboard landings.
“It is a tremendous honor to command the most accomplished MH-60R squadron in the Navy, the HSM-77 Saberhawks,” said Ward. “Not only do I have the chance to command a squadron, but I get to do so alongside my Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 brethren in the most fraternal and cohesive air wing in the Navy. If that wasn't enough, I will be leading a squadron that houses the Navy's most advanced and complete airborne sensor and targeting platform, forward deployed in the world's most active naval environment.”
Founded in September 1987, the Saberhawks began as Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 47 and they employed the SH-60B helicopter at the forefront of helicopter operations in the Pacific Fleet. In 2009, HSL-47 transitioned to HSM-77. The Saberhawks were attached to the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Group and deployed with the MH-60R until August of 2012, when their outstanding reputation led to their selection to fight from the tip of the spear with Battle Force 7th Fleet. They now operate their specialized team of warfighters and advanced aircraft from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan with CVW-5 and the George Washington Strike Group.
“The Saberhawks have been at the forefront of tactical development and employment, and it's my intent to carry on this tradition,” said Ward. “We will continue to tactically innovate and integrate into the long and medium range strike packages for which we were designed, while simultaneously honing our skills in the anti-submarine warfare environment.”
The Saberhawks are one of the eight CVW-5 squadrons embarked aboard George Washington and are on patrol in the 7th fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.