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Shaffer
09-06-02, 10:53 AM
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- The Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362 Ugly Angels might have to change their name to the Studly Angels after recently completing a Herculean four-month evolution that began April 1 and took them on a whirlwind tour of the Philippines, Brunei, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

The evolution, dubbed "Fish Hook," marked the first time Marines have supported Landing Force Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises with CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter support throughout a whole evolution.

"It's easy for guys like me to jump in a helicopter and fly a mission," said Lt. Col. Douglas Wadsworth, commanding officer of HMH-362, which hails from Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and is currently at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni under the Unit Deployment Program until October. "But the success of this mission, especially since it had never been done this way before, depended on our young Marines on the ground who were turning the wrenches and providing logistical support more than it did the officers up in the air. I can't say enough about our Marines."

Master Sgt. Richard McKnight, HMH-362 maintenance chief, voiced his opinion in a similar vein.

"NCO's might argue this point, but lance corporals are the real backbone of the Corps," said McKnight. "Without them nothing is going to happen. Day in and day out our lance corporals did an outstanding job. Our success is a reflection of their effort."

The evolution first took the Ugly Angels to Okinawa (April 1-3) and the Philippines (April 3 - May 5) in support of Balikitan. From there, it was on to Brunei (May 5-13) for LF CARAT, then to Thailand (May 14-June 21) for another LF CARAT and Cobra Gold 2002. After Cobra Gold the squadron headed to Malaysia (June 21-July 2) for more LF CARAT before heading to Singapore (July 2-23) for the Fourth of July and yet another LF CARAT. After wrapping up their training, and visits to the Philippines and Okinawa again, the Ugly Angels finally returned to Iwakuni after 7,114 miles of total travel.

"Our main mission was to cross train with all these different countries," said Capt. Shawn Budd, HMH-362 administration and personnel officer, "in case one day we have a common threat that our forces will combine to defeat. We had pilot swaps and also taught classes in night vision goggles, terrain flight techniques, mission and roles of the Marine Corps and CH-53D helicopters, survival, escape, resistance and evasion, and operational risk management. There was a lot to accomplish, but it was exciting to see that the Marine Corps is an even more formidable force when our allies are properly trained."

But training wasn't the only aspect of Fish Hook. Marines also got to experience things most will never have a chance to.

"I wanted to travel when I first joined the Marine Corps," said Lance Cpl. Bryant Moran, HMH-362 aviation mechanic. "I got more than I ever bargained for on Fish Hook. Actually seeing all of these exotic lands really opened my eyes to the fact that there is a whole big world out there. I learned how important it is to learn different cultures and customs, and to respect and appreciate differences. We were treated great by the military and all the people from these places. I liked them all, but the Philippines was probably my favorite. You could tell the people there really appreciated our presence."

According to Staff Sgt. James Sabourin, HMH-362 life support systems technician, the trip was an overwhelming success from a mission standpoint, and a valuable experience from both a work and cultural standpoint. Nevertheless, "It's hard living out of a sea bag for four solid months," said Sabourin. "Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change the experience for anything, but I'd be lying if I said it doesn't feel good to be back."