USS PELELIU, At Sea --
Goodbyes are always hard, especially when it involves a working relationship 40 years in the making.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (Reinforced) set sail this week on their last deployment with the infamous CH-46E Sea Knight, lovingly referred to as the "battle phrog."
The CH-46E Sea Knight, a Boeing manufactured tandem rotor helicopter, has been used by the White Knights since the Vietnam War in a wide variety of missions.
"The CH-46E is an especially capable aircraft," explained Captain William J. Moran, CH-46E pilot, HMM-165 (REIN). "It's been used to transport food, medical supplies, troops, and essential cargo all over the world in its long career with the Marine Corps."
Of all missions the phrogs' of HMM-165 have flown, the most famous is often regarded as the extraction of the U.S. ambassador in Saigon. When Lady Ace 09 left Saigon that day the U.S. ended its involvement in the Vietnam War.
The White Knights "phrogs" went on to fly missions all over the world, participating in operations during the Gulf War as well as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The White Knights gained international attention when they were called upon to rescue the infamous Jessica Lynch during a special operation during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
With everything the phrog and the White Knights have been through, saying goodbye will be hard for the Marines who have spent their entire career working with them.
"I've been working with the CH-46E for over 13 years," said Gunnery Sergeant Wade M. Davis, CH-46E crew chief, HMM-165 (REIN), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "All the knowledge and experience I've taken away so far I will cherish and use when we eventually have to learn the ins and outs of our new bird."
When the White Knights return from this deployment they will no longer will be known as HMM-165, but instead will be named Marine Tiltrotor Helicopter Squadron 165.
Officially, March 1, 2011 will begin a new era for '165'.
"We will change names to VMM-165 and put to rest the CH-46E for the new MV-22 Osprey," explained Davis, a 36-year-old Ogden, Utah native.
A common question asked is what will happen to the Marines who currently work with the phrogs.
Moran explained that once the White Knights come back from this deployment, they will begin transitioning their personnel. A third of the Marines will stay with the White Knights to start training on the Osprey. Another third will leave and go to other units where the Sea Knight may still be in service, while the last third will come from units where they currently use the Osprey.
"The goal is to get the squadron up and running as soon as possible with the highest possible standards," said Moran, a 28-year-old St. Louis native.
When the day finally does come the phrogs will hop their way to many different places. For a few it will be their final resting place.
"Some will go to the bone yard where they will be preserved for war reserves, others will be placed in museums, and some will be rotated to other units where they will be used a bit more before they too are finally put to rest," said Moran.
After all is said and done, one thing can definitely be agreed upon by all that have worked with the infamous phrogs.
"Everything the CH-46E's have done is because of the mechanics," said Davis. "They are the ones who put in all those hours to keep them in the sky. Without them we wouldn't be where we are now and we wouldn't have been able to accomplish our mission."