PHILIPPINE SEA -- The Sailors of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, Detachment 1, provide amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli with an important multi-role air asset.
HSC-23 performs several essential missions for the ship that include search and rescue (SAR), plane guard, vertical replenishment (VERTREP), personnel transportation and close air support for maritime operations.
“I think they are vitally important to air operations aboard Tripoli,” said Lt. Alex Chang, V-3 division officer aboard Tripoli, and a naval helicopter pilot. “HSC-23 provides a critical search and rescue asset.”
SAR is HSC-23’s primary mission aboard Tripoli because helicopters provide greater range and speed of recovery for personnel who have gone into the ocean.
“From the helicopters we can find and recover someone in the water in about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on their condition” said Lt. Cody Hull, a pilot assigned to HSC-23 Detachment 1’s secondary mission, plane guard, involves a helicopter orbiting in close proximity to the ship in the event something happens to another aircraft during takeoff or landing. An aircraft mishap like that could potentially turn into a SAR operation and the plane guard is there as a first responder.
The MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters flown by HSC-23 are the latest version of an aircraft the Navy has been operating since the early 1980s. The Sea Hawks are smaller than the aircraft of the Marine Air Group (MAG) with an airframe designed for a changing mission set.
“I think the aircraft offers a lot of versatility. We can use the cabin for SAR, plane guard, PMC (passengers, mail, cargo) runs, or putting Marines in the back for various missions,” said Hull. “Earlier on in the deployment we were flying pretty much ten hours a day.”
Detachment 1 is made up of 49 Sailors; pilots, Navy Air Crewmen and maintainers who operate three helicopters. As a detachment aboard Tripoli, they need to integrate not only with the crew, but with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) as well.
“When the MEU is embarked, we integrate with them however we can,” said Hull. “Whether it is visit, board, search and seize (VBSS), surveillance, or reconnaissance, the more we integrate, the more things we can do with the Marines.”
A typical flight day starts with pre-flight checks on two aircraft. The secondary helicopter remains on standby in case the primary has technical issues.
Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Scott Linto said during a plane guard mission, the helicopter flies with two pilots and the two air crewman. The air crewman serve as the crew chief and rescue swimmer. He added that HSC-23’s mission can change quickly and they have to be ready to pivot at a moments notice.
“Working out all the details as perfectly and quickly as we can is kind of fun,” said Linto. “Things change last second and you have to be flexible.”
Another regular mission HSC-23 assists with is VERTREP. This mission involves the helicopters flying between Tripoli and a replenishment vessel to pick up and gently deliver cargo.
“I would say VERTREP is definitely the most fun mission,” said Linto. “It’s dynamic. There’s a lot of conversation between pilots and aircrew, and a lot of coordination with people on the ground.”
The size and flexibility of the Sea Hawks provide options that the (MAG) aircraft do not have. Earlier in the deployment, HSC-23 transported Marines from Tripoli to USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) to conduct VBSS missions.
“Each day that we’re onboard with the MEU is another step toward making the Navy and Marine team a more cohesive unit,” said Hull.
As deployment continues, Tripoli, HSC-23, and the 31st MEU operate together as a versatile unit, ready for the next mission, demonstrating the flexibility and versatility of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Tripoli is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and maintain stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
For more information about Tripoli, head to the command’s Facebook (www.facebook.com/usstripoli) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/officialusstripoli) pages.