MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - A squadron at Marine Corps Base Hawaii has traded Sea Stallions at Kaneohe for Ospreys in California.
A late-afternoon ceremony Thursday marked the re-designation and relocation of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, also known as the "Lucky Red Lions." The squadron's battle colors were flown one last night before they were ceremonially wrapped by outgoing commander Lt. Col. Mark Revor.
"Kind of a sad day as a former Red Lion myself, seeing another one of our squadrons say goodbye," said Col. Richard Caputo Jr., commander of Marine Aircraft Group 24 at Kaneohe. "Sundown (for) the venerable 53-D aircraft."
The event marking the end of the Marine helicopter unit didn't include any of the CH-53D Sea Stallions. They're all being retired, with only 12 remaining in Afghanistan.
The aging aircraft also made news in March of last year, when one of them went down on the sandbar at Kaneohe Bay during a training flight, killing one marine and injuring three others.
Six other Kaneohe marines died last January when another Sea Stallion crashed while the squadron was deployed in Afghanistan.
Despite those mishaps, the unit kept going.
"There was still infantry on the ground that needed support, there were still people that wanted to fly rather than drive across IED-strewn roads, and so they recognized the mission, got themselves together, and we got back in the aircraft and got back on the mission," said Revor.
A new commander, Lt. Col. Timothy Miller, unfurled the unit's new battle colors, making its new designation as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363. It will fly MV-22B Ospreys, the military's latest transport aircraft, which flies like an airplane but can take off and land like a helicopter. The Ospreys are in California, where the unit will be based for the next three years at Air Station Miramar before it returns to Kaneohe in 2015.
It's the end of an era, but the beginning of another for the squadron.
"We identify ourselves as 53-D pilots, or whatever it might be," Revor said. "So when a squadron moves on, it's the same name, it's the same name, it's the same lineage, but it will be a different group, a different designation, a different aircraft, but it's all the Marine Corps."