Birthday bash mixes with deployment plans

June 30, 2007 - 12:00AM

The Golden Eagles of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 are busy preparing to relieve the first deployable MV-22 Osprey squadron in February 2008, according to the squadron sergeant major.

Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, which stood up in March 2006, is expected to deploy in September to Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq for seven months.

And while the Marines of VMM-162 are busy training, they still took time to celebrate their 56th birthday Friday morning as one of the oldest squadrons aboard the New River Air Station.

Though the squadron was activated on June 30, 1951 as Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron, VMM-162 became the second Osprey squadron in August.

Marines with VMM-162 will assist the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit with unloading equipment and troops as the MEU arrives home from a six-month deployment this weekend. They will later train in California in preparation for their own deployment.

The experience will provide a good training opportunity for the pilots and crew of the Osprey - the aircraft that replaced the squadron's Vietnam-era CH-46, Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopii said.

"This aircraft is impressive, but what sets it apart is these Marines," he said. "We've got some well-trained and very educated Marines here."

The squadron's Marines celebrated their history with a short ceremony and cake-cutting, followed by a cookout Friday. Leadership said it was important for the Marines of the new Osprey squadron to understand the legacy before them.

"Since our existence, we've served in every war," Hoopii said. "It's important for younger Marines to take what they've experienced and learned and take it to the future."

In 2003, the squadron played an important role in the battle of An Nasiriyah in Iraq.

"They were instrumental in support of equipment and evacuation of casualties," Hoopii said.

Lt. Col. Karsten Heckl, commanding officer of VMM-162, said the day was important for the 196-Marine squadron.

"A squadron with this kind of legacy and heritage is impressive," he said. "It's important for them to understand what they are stepping into. These guys were absolutely heroes of An Nasiriyah. I want them to understand what they're a part of."

Heckl and Hoopii said they are confident that the Marines and aircraft will be ready for their next mission.

"The Marines are excited about the deployment," Hoopii said. "My retention for the squadron is amazing and most of (the Marines) have extended. They're doing it because they believe in what they do. And they do phenomenal work."

Contact staff writer Chrissy Vick at or by calling 353-1171, ext. 8466.