NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. (NNS) -- More than 500 Sailors, former unit members, and family attended the disestablishment ceremony Dec. 3 for Helicopter Combat Support Special Squadron (HCS) 5 aboard Naval Air Station North Island.
The ceremony served to commemorate the past missions of HCS-5 and the official end of activities for the specialized Reserve helicopter squadron.
"Today we disestablished the Navy's most combat effective helicopter squadron of the past 30 years," said Cmdr. Patrick Baccanari, the unit's commanding officer.
Established in 1988, HCS-5 was a Naval Air Reserve Squadron under Commander, Helicopter Wing Reserve, San Diego, and Naval Air Reserve Force, New Orleans. The squadron, which was composed of selected and full-time support Reservists, flew the HH-60H Seahawk helicopter primarily for combat search and rescue, and to support Sea, Air, Land (SEALs) and other special warfare units.
HCS-5, along with its sister squadron, HCS-4, were the only Navy squadrons that perform both combat search and rescue and special warfare support as their primary missions.
The keynote speaker was former HCS-5 Commanding Officer, Capt. Dan Pinkerton, who spoke proudly of the lineage and the history of the unit. Pinkerton had served in various division officer tours for Vietnam-era Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron (HAL) 5, the precursor to HCS-5.
During his speech, Pinkerton saluted all the men and women who had served in the unit, past and present. He ended his speech with an emotional goodbye and the words, "Born in combat, standing down in combat. We did our duty."
The disestablishment is part of the Naval Air Reserve's plan to reshape its aviation forces. The "Firehawks" filled a role shared by its sister squadron, the Norfolk, Va.-based "Red Wolves" of HCS-4, which also is slated to be disestablished.
"This ceremony marks a transition for our Sailors, but we are not losing the capability nor the talent of our people," said Rear Adm. Jeffrey Lemmons, vice commander, Naval Air Forces. "They will go on to serve in other units and keep this mission alive, and their skill sets well-honed."
Guests at the ceremony included Sailors from the early days of Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3, HAL-5, and HCS-5. Many used this opportunity to reunite with old friends and reminisce about the "old days."
"I am glad to be here," said Dennis Russell, a former HCS-5 member who flew in from El Paso, Texas. "I am lucky to have served with such great people."
Some felt the bond to the unit very strongly and got emotional when they spoke of their feelings about the disestablishment.
"As a junior Sailor in the unit, I got to work with people who had combat experience in Vietnam," said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Shawn Porter. "They took me in and showed me how to do things right. I will never forget them. The experience I gained here will be with me for the rest of my Navy career."
Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Richard Sanchez, a member who had been with the unit for 15 years, said that this has been the best unit he has worked with and they have proved what they can do for the Navy.
"I see the same pride and dedication to service in the Sailors today that we had during the days of Vietnam. This unit is the best of the best," said Aviation Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Mike Dobson, a member of HAL-3 "Seawolfs," the grandfather of HCS-5.
Capt. James Iannone, commodore of Helicopter Wing Reserve San Diego and New Orleans, summarized his thoughts about the unit after the ceremony.
"When I think of this unit, I think of the words, 'The many have come to rely on the few.' These men and women are the proud few who stand together and have served whenever and wherever they are called," Iannone said.
Earlier this year, the Firehawks received the Navy Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious service from March 2003 through April 2004.
During this period, the squadron completed more than 1,700 combat flight hours and 900 combat air missions in direct support of U.S. and multinational special operations forces in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After reading the orders of disestablishment and words of goodbye from their commanding officer, the Sailors of HCS-5 were dismissed by the executive officer. The Sailors filed out proudly and silently to begin a new chapter in their lives.
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