MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines, families, spouses, friends and loved ones gathered for the return of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 “Purple Foxes” during a homecoming ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 13.
The squadron’s return from an eight-month deployment signaled an end of an era. The CH-46 Sea Knight will no longer deploy as part of the Marine Corps’ air combat element.
“I’ve been flying these aircraft since 1993,” said Lt. Col. John Field, the aviation combat element commander for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It’s sad to see it go.”
Although the Sea knight is transitioning out of the Marine Corps, the 15th MEU still relied on the aircraft for support.
“We performed several theater security cooperation missions in the Persian Gulf, humanitarian missions and were awaiting mission orders near the horn of Africa,” said Field. “We were fully prepared to act as America’s force in readiness.”
The unit’s aircraft needed to be ready for deployment at a moment’s notice, requiring constant maintenance and round-the-clock hours for most of the crew and maintainers with the Purple Foxes.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my Marines and sailors,” said Field. “It was an honor to see that day in and day out, the missions that they did under the harsh conditions of being deployed at sea were nothing short of incredible. It’s very rewarding to see them all come home and very humbling to see the support of all the friends, families and loved ones gathered here.”
Hundreds of Marines and sailors returned home – greeted by loved ones who supported them while deployed.
One such family was that of Staff Sgt. Natividad Herrera, a Sea Knight mechanic with the squadron. His wife, Rosie Herrera, brought their daughters Precious, 9 years old, and Marilyn, 6 years old, to witness their father’s return.
Rosie also felt emotional about the Sea Knight being retired from the front lines after this deployment.
The aircraft her husband maintains are important and provide a great deal of support to every mission, explained Rosie. They were also her favorite kind of aircraft and she will be sad to see them go.
The retirement of the Sea Knight did not overshadow the excitement and joy of Precious and Marilyn getting to see their father, however.
“When I see him, I’m going to squeeze him!” said Precious, her little sister nodding in agreement. “I’m happy that he’s coming home, and I worried about him, but I know he was safe because he was doing his job.”
After tearful greetings, the Marines and sailors collected their gear, then left to spend quality time together with friends, families and loved ones for the first time in eight months.