PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The "Raptors" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71 will complete their maiden deployment when the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) pulls into San Diego July 6.
HSM-71 was commissioned Oct. 3, 2007 and started its first deployment on Jan. 17, 2009.
In 2007 the squadron was comprised of two aircraft and a handful of personnel. Now it has more than 270 Sailors and 11 MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters. HSM-71 serves aboard Stennis and mans detachments aboard USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Preble (DDG 88) and USS Kidd (DDG 100).
"Raptors" Commanding Officer Cmdr. Jeffrey Dodge said he has seen the squadron grow as they experienced their first deployment.
"Many of our people had never gone to sea before," said Dodge. "There was a lot of training we had to do, but everyone rose to the challenge."
Dodge said a large part of their training was on the helicopter systems, which were new to everyone in the squadron.
"Most of our training was [on the job training], and we've made more than 500 changes to the maintenance and flight publications," said Dodge. "We've had three major upgrades since we've gotten the aircraft and have set the foundation for the entire community to build upon."
Maintenance Master Chief (AFCM) (AW) Walter Butac, who has been with the squadron since its commissioning, said the major challenge was working with brand new aircraft, which were the first ones of their type to be manufactured in the world.
"We have been learning how to maintain it from day one," said Butac.
Butac said the squadron's electronics technicians had to be retrained to maintain the new helicopter.
When the Navy first established the squadron, personnel being assigned to the "Raptors" came from various backgrounds and job experiences.
"We had people coming from fixed-wing aircraft and different helicopter squadrons, and they all had different ways of doing business," said Butac. "That was the real challenge - to make them work together. But we learned a lot during the workups, and it worked out pretty good."
According to Dodge, the high point of HSM-71's maiden deployment was the USWEX [undersea warfare exercise].
"Since one of our primary missions is ASW [anti-submarine warfare], the USWEX that we did in February really showed the tactical capabilities of what we can do with the aircraft," said Dodge. "It was nice to see because it validated everything else that we've done."
During the USWEX, HSM-71 deployed multiple aircraft to simulate engagements with U.S. and Japanese submarines.
The squadron kept three helos airborne throughout the entire four-day exercise for a total 222 flight hours and conducted 28 simulated attacks on two U.S. and two Japanese submarines.
Dodge said he was proud of what his squadron accomplished during the USWEX, but he really saw them come together as a team when a helo had to be downed due to mechanical failure.
"One of the aircraft had a problem with its sensors," said Dodge. "It was replaced by another aircraft that launched within 15 minutes. So the crew and the maintainers had that aircraft prepped and ready to go. The failed system was fixed within two hours and was ready to go back into the rotation. From the warfare commander's perspective, there was no gap. It was pretty impressive."
As the "Raptors" approach the end of their first deployment, Dodge said the squadron has been blessed to be incident free while still meeting all their mission requirements.
During their workups and maiden deployment, HSM-71 flew more than 4,690 hours with a 95 percent sortie completion rate and earned the right to fly the Enlisted Aviation Warfare Pennant.
For more news from USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn74/.