PACIFIC OCEAN – The “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12 returned from their 2021 deployment to 5th and 7th Fleets and were greeted by family at Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi, Oct. 8.
Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 assigned to the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG 5), the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier strike group, was tasked with heading west into U.S. 5th Fleet to provide air power in support of the United States’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"This has been a fantastic deployment and I could not be more appreciative of our team of Sailors, who grinded day in and day out to provide combat-ready helicopters to perform any assigned mission,” said Cmdr. Justin Ott, commanding officer of HSC-12. “From SAR to [Vertical Replenishment] VERTREP to Vessel Boarding; this team has come together to exceed all expectations and standards in mission accomplishment. All along, our focus has been on safe, on-time, brilliant at the basics flight operations and maintenance, and I could not be more proud of the work this team has done."
HSC-12 supported aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) by conducting Anti-Surface Warfare exercises, maintaining Search and Rescue (SAR) teams, and Vertical Replenishment. The Golden Falcons also provided support for a crisis that took place on a civilian vessel in the Arabian Sea.
On July 30, HSC-12 pilots and crewmen were informed that Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged merchant vessel, was struck by a one-way Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in international waters as the squadron was preparing for routine operations in their ready room aboard aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
The attack left two crewmembers from the merchant tanker dead and the rest sheltering in place.
Upon notification, the flight crews were re-assigned and the squadron’s mission changed to supporting the transportation of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 from Ronald Reagan to Mercer Street and back.
Due to consistent training, and a well-established relationship between HSC-12 crew and EODMU 5 technicians, the planning and execution of this operation was conducted in under an hour.
“The natural progression of this operation was seamless, because planning to work with EOD in a scenario like this began months ago,” said Lt. Cmdr. Danny Wood, Safety Officer for HSC-12 and Aircraft Commander for the Mercer Street operation. “It felt great to do this operationally. One of the paradoxes of being a [helicopter] pilot is that you hope no one needs you but if they do you’re glad you’re there.”
After loading EODMU 5 onto an MH-60S Seahawk, the crew faced the challenge of safely making contact with Mercer Street. Taking off from the flight deck of Ronald Reagan and locating Mercer Street was made easy thanks to the help from the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 who were already in the air providing support. The challenge faced by the crew was navigating through the high winds and volatile sea state to provide a clear landing spot for EODMU 5 to rappel down a rope onto Mercer Street.
“The wind was blowing at 40 knots [46 mph] and [Mercer Street] was swaying heavily,” said Lt. Ian Grover, an HSC-12 Maintenance Divisional Officer and second pilot for the Mercer Street operation. “Despite the environmental conditions making the insertion more difficult, there was no doubt in our minds that we could get the job done.”
HSC-12 pilots depend on Naval Aircrewmen to direct and guide the helicopter. From their position in the center compartment of the aircraft, aircrewmen have a greater vantage point to identify obstacles in the helicopter’s path. These aircrewmen are trusted Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers who play a key role in ensuring a multi-mission helicopter, such as HSC-12’s MH-60Ss, is successful in seamlessly transitioning from one mission set to another.
“This was a flight none of us will ever forget,” said Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Corey Culp, SAR swimmer and crew chief for the Mercer Street operation. “[Mercer Street] did not have a designated helicopter landing pad, so we had to identify an insertion point away from the various steam vents and pipes aboard the deck of the ship. It wasn’t easy due to the ship’s movements the entire time, but it was awesome to see the culmination of all our training come together."
EODMU 5 was safely delivered to and recovered from Mercer Street after they were able to investigate the aftermath of the explosion and to ensure the crew’s safety.
During their 2021 deployment embarked aboard Ronald Reagan, HSC-12 flew more than 1,920 hours across 146 days. The Golden Falcons facilitated 35 EOD live roping operations and 72 integrated operations. During this deployment the squadron had three officers promoted and three Sailors meritoriously promoted. They conducted 33 internal cargo missions and 45 VERTREP sorties which moved over five million pounds of cargo.
HSC-12 is a United States Navy helicopter squadron with more than 200 members forward-deployed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan.
U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability, and prevent conflict.