Carrier Air Wing 5 Welcomes HSM-77
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shannon Heavin, Commander, Task Force 70 Public Affairs
USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, At Sea - The "Saberhawks" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 moved into the Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 neighborhood, as the newest addition embarked on board Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) prior to their 2013 patrol.

The Saberhawks' missions are to conduct Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Surface Warfare (SUW,) as well as Search and Rescue (SAR), Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP), Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS), and Communications Relay (COMREL).

"We spend the majority of our time flying over the horizon, away from the Strike Group, to expand the radar search range and look for surface and submerged contacts," said Cmdr. Rich Whitfield, commanding officer of the Saberhawks. "We fly MH-60 Romeo's; not to be confused with the Sierras. We can fit two personnel in the back when fully loaded."

Whitfield explained that MH-60 Romeos bring the tactical maritime mission capability to an entire new level, surpassing previous fleet capability. MH-60R Seahawk helicopters have a high-tech avionics, mission systems, and cockpit, making it one of the world's most capable naval helicopter.

The aircraft features a glass cockpit and significant mission system improvements over the SH-60B helicopter, which gives the MH-60R unmatched capability as an airborne multi-mission naval platform. The MH-60R is tasked with Over-the-Horizon Targeting (OTH-T) on board George Washington and Navy surface combatant ships.

HSM-77 has five MH-60R helicopters on board George Washington and two helicopters on the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54).

The Saberhawks packed up their helicopters, gear, and family members in a hurry to meet their next mission attached to the 7th Fleet area of operation. Saberhawks are proud to be the first 'bravo to sea' squadron, establishing the Navy's Helicopter Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for deploying two helicopter squadrons, with Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) 12, within a single Carrier Air Wing and providing the momentum necessary for the transition to carrier based operations.

"I think we're adjusting pretty well," said Chief Aviation Ordnanceman James Botting, leading chief petty officer of HSM-77. "A lot of that has to do with the interaction we face on the ship. We came originally from San Diego, not knowing how it was going to turn out; however, since arriving it's been nothing but outstanding."

Botting said that with his experience attached to HSM-77, there has been a great mentality.

"The personalities here and the mindset of the crew help us succeed in every aspect. We've had a good integration along with great morale," added Botting.

Saberhawks were commissioned Sept. 25, 1987 at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, Calif. Later, HSM-77 was renamed from Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 47 in April of 2009.

"Transferring here was different," said Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 3rd Class Mark Mendoza.

"It was a lot of work. Especially, since Japan is so different than San Diego. I'm actually from San Diego, so for me I was more excited to be in a new place. We've done a good job interacting with all the squadrons and getting accustomed to how George Washington runs things verses [our previous aircraft carrier], USS Abraham Lincoln," said Mendoza.

Prior to this patrol the Saberhawks were deployed with CVW-2 on board Abraham Lincoln in June 2012.

"This is my third time being new to an Air Wing, and I can tell you what the difference is," said Whitfield. "Air Wing Five, from Sailors on the flight deck to the Handler all the way up to the Air Boss, and Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) in the hangar bay, have received us with ridiculously open arms. It's absolutely phenomenal."

The Saberhawks cannot go unnoticed without the mention of the Department of Defense winner of the 2012 Phoenix Award. The Phoenix Award honors military maintenance organizations for outstanding performance.

"We're just doing what we're supposed to do," said Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 1st Class David Gonzalez, maintenance leading petty officer of HSM-77. "Everything really fell into place because we have the right team and the right attitude."

Saberhawks' skipper concluded that the success of the squadron lies in the crew's core as a one family.

"This squadron has a long history of being pretty close-knit and having one heck of family atmosphere," said Whitfield. "You don't get to pick your brothers and sisters. You don't get to pick your shipmates, but you've got them and you find the best in each one. We make the best of it."

Saberhawks are one of the nine squadrons of CVW-5 embarked on U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier George Washington to provide a combat-ready force that protects the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its partners and allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

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