DIEGO (NNS) -- Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 15 officially
transitioned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 15 during a ceremony, Nov.
15, 2012 at Naval Air Station North Island.
The "Red Lions" are the latest anti-submarine squadron to make the
transition to a sea combat squadron as part of the Navy's new direction for
the rotary wing community, said Cmdr. Gabriel Soltero, commanding officer of
"The Navy has been moving toward using the MH-60 helicopter as a very
versatile platform," Soltero said. "Part of that included two new
airframes, the MH-60R and MH-60S. As that concept of operations evolved, we
decided to leave the anti-submarine warfare mission to the MH-60R, and the
sensors in that aircraft are quite capable of carrying out that mission. So,
we're still just as capable, if not more, as a rotary wing community. We just
have different aircraft now to carry it out."
The MH-60S Seahawk will replace the SH-60F/H aircraft previously used by
HS-15. Soltero said that the squadron had to undergo extensive training to
prepare to fly and maintain the new aircraft.
"The squadron had to send quite a few Sailors to learn how to work and
maintain the new MH-60S," said Soltero. "Luckily, many of the
systems are similar but some are not. Those that were not similar,
specifically avionics and ordnance, required some new training on the part of
our Sailors. So when we returned from deployment this past May, we took some
time to arrange for our Sailors to receive this training. In addition, our
pilots had to go to undergo training here to learn how to fly the
Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Rodney Faulk, assigned to HSC-15, was
one of the Sailors who underwent more than five months of training to prepare
for the transition.
"My job has changed a lot because of the new aircraft," Faulk
noted. "There are no more anti-submarine components. It's more
combat-related now. So, there are more weapons systems, which mean more
airframe systems to support those weapons systems. We had to re-qualify on
Despite the new aircraft and some changes to the squadron's mission, they
will continue to perform many of the core missions they have been carrying
out for years, Soltero said.
"We're retaining many of our other mission sets including anti-surface
warfare, naval special warfare support, and combat search and rescue,"
said Soltero. "Those are missions that were part of our core set as an
HS squadron, and we will continue to perform those missions as an HSC
Soltero said he has enjoyed the experience of leading the squadron through
"My very first operational squadron was HS-15, when I was a young
lieutenant, about 15 years ago. To me, it's been a very high honor to be able
to stand up in front of the squadron and lead it through the transition. The
Sailors have done a fantastic job, the pilots are top notch, and there is
really nothing else I would rather be doing."
from the HSC-15
As an aircraft carrier-based squadron, HS-15
has operated aboard eleven East Coast carriers: USS AMERICA (CV 66), USS
NIMITZ (CVN 68), USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62), USS FORRESTAL (CV 59), USS SARATOGA
(CV 60), USS ENTERPRISE (CV 65), USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69), USS
GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73), USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76), USS JOHN F. KENNEDY
(CV 67), and USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75). Now as a West Coast squadron,
HS-15 is attached to the USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70).
Over the years, operations have taken HS-15 to the Atlantic, Arctic, Indian,
and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Adriatic, Arabian, Caribbean,
Mediterranean, and Norwegian Seas. During deployments, the Red Lions have
long played a role in U.S. foreign policy and military actions, including
contingency operations with the U.S. Multinational Peacekeeping Force in
Lebanon during Operation FLUID DRIVE; combat operations during URGENT FURRY
in Grenada; extensive North Atlantic antisubmarine warfare (ASW) operations
with NATO; PROVIDE COMFORT in Iraq; PROVIDE PROMISE and DENY FLIGHT in the
former Yugoslavia; DECISIVE ENDEAVOR and SOUTHERN WATCH in the Arabian Gulf;
DELIBERATE GUARD and COOPERATIVE ASSEMBLY supporting U.S. involvement in the
Balkans conflict; IRAQI FREEDOM in Iraq; ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN in
Afghanistan; and UNIFIED RESPONSE in Haiti for humanitarian support.
Throughout its entire history, HS-15 has the proud distinction of rescuing or
evacuating no fewer than 700 personnel.
HELICOPTER ANTISUBMARINE SQUADRON FIFTEEN was commissioned on 29 October 1971
to fly the SH-3 Sea King at Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey. This
new squadron was commissioned for the purpose of testing and then fulfilling
a new naval concept: SEA CONTROL. HS-15’s first years were spent assisting
the Interim Sea Control Ship evaluations onboard the USS GUAM (LPH-9). On 21
January 1972, only 80 days after its commissioning and one month after
receiving its full complement of SH-3G aircraft, HS-15 deployed for the first
The first major event in HS-15’s illustrious history occurred on 23 June
1972. Hurricane Agnes had severely flooded the Wilkes-Barres/Scranton area in
northern Pennsylvania. HS-15 sent five of its aircraft for disaster relief
and evacuated or rescued 427 people. Without any rest for the weary, HS-15
was deployed two days later to continue its Sea Control Concept evaluation.
This intrepid squadron transitioned to the new SH-3H helicopter in August
1972, eventually joining Helicopter Sea Control Group ONE on 29 September
1972. The Sea Combat Control mission gave the squadron the opportunity to fly
over the polar icecaps and relax during their first port call to Lisbon,
Portugal on 20 June 1973. In November of that same year, HS-15 moved from
Lakehurst, New Jersey to Jacksonville, Florida. The final Sea Combat Control
Evaluation was held on 18 April 1974. By finally finishing the first mission
assigned, HS-15 was allowed to shift from the Sea Control environment to the
CV environment and operate as a conventional HS squadron.
During a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea in 1976 onboard the USS AMERICA,
HS-15 provided actual evacuations in Lebanon during operation FLUID DRIVE.
During an exercise in the Med, HS-15 continuously tracked a submarine for
over an 8 hour period. Following the completion of this training exercise,
the submarine transmitted: “Tracked by big dippers all morning. Trying to
break helicopter contact proved to be Mission Impossible.” The Red Lions
further showed their anti-submarine prowess by tracking and forcing a Soviet
sub to surface.
Six years later, during another deployment the Red Lions were tasked to
shuttle U.S. Special Envoy Philip Habib to and from Beirut as he negotiated a
settlement of the Israeli-PLO conflict. This support allowed Mr. Habib to
successfully negotiate a peace treaty that allowed the PLO to evacuate from
the besieged city of Beirut. In 1982, for his efforts he was awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest official honor given to a US
citizen by the government.
The high tempo pace continued for HS-15 when they deployed in October of
1983. This deployment was originally scheduled for the Indian Ocean, but
events in Grenada forced a divert to the South Caribbean. Throughout the
hostilities in Grenada, the Red Lions provided combat SAR service as well as
small boat interdiction patrols while operating a forward detachment from the
USS MOOSBRUGGER. During this detachment HS-15 rescued 11 wounded personnel
from a downed Army helicopter. Four days later, the Red Lions rescued a
civilian in the combat zone during a small boat interdiction flight.
The Red Lions were on deployment to the Med aboard the USS FORRESTAL, when
the Pan Am hijacking occurred on 5 September 1986. Since the FORRESTAL was in
port Naples at the time, an emergency recall was ordered. However, the ship
left port missing nearly half of its crew and the Red Lions continuously
conducted logistic runs to bring the necessary personnel back aboard.
The squadron’s 1988 deployment took the Red Lions from the Mediterranean Sea
through the Suez Canal to the North Arabian Sea. Their presence was to ensure
the unobstructed passage of ocean commerce through the Strait of Hormuz into
the Persian Gulf. Among the high points of the deployment was the opportunity
to meet the Commander-in-Chief, President George H. W. Bush, prior to his
“Summit on the Sea” with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Through 1992 and 1993, HS-15 transitioned to a new aircraft, a new carrier,
and a new carrier air wing. The Red Lions successfully completed the
transition to the new SH-60F/H Seahawk and subsequently joined CVW-17 and the
USS SARATOGA. HS-15 led the development of the overwater Night Vision Goggle
program, ensured 100 percent of the aircrews were NVG qualified, and
integrated with SEAL Team EIGHT to form the most operationally ready Combat
Search and Rescue team in the Navy. This training allowed the Red Lions to
stand over 1,000 hours of CSAR alert in the Adriatic Sea, supporting Operations
PROVIDE PROMISE and DENY FLIGHT off the coast of Bosnia.
1997 provided more change as the Red Lions joined the USS DWIGHT D.
EISENHOWER battle group and welcomed their first female pilot into the
squadron. The squadron deployed with IKE in April 1998 to the Persian Gulf.
However, plans changed with rising escalations in Yugoslavia. During
Operation DELIBERATE GUARD, HS-15 logged over 2,500 hours of flight time
patrolling the coast of the Adriatic Sea in a perfect position to support any
HS-15 entered the global war on terror on 12 September 2001, the day after
the tragic terrorist attacks. Within 24 hours the Red Lions had four aircraft
and over half of their Sailors aboard USS GEORGE WASHINGTON in New York City
Harbor supporting Combat Air Patrols.
During the first three months of their 2002 deployment on USS GEORGE
WASHINGTON, HS-15 actively participated in Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and
SOUTHERN WATCH, flying numerous SAR flights and standing around the clock
combat SAR alerts, enabling CVW-17 aircraft to constantly provide airpower in
support of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan. During deployment, the Red
Lions also participated in numerous coalition exercises with allied
In 2005 the Red Lions began preparations for the Central Command Navy Air
Ambulance combat MEDEVAC mission in Kuwait. Throughout the year, squadron
pilots and aircrew completed U.S. Army Medical Evacuation doctrine schools,
flew training missions with Army MEDEVAC pilots at Fort Rucker, and
successfully completed a Helicopter Advanced Readiness Program specially
designed to earn U.S. Army MEDEVAC certification prior to deployment. In
November, the Red Lions, as the lead squadron, along with the Island Knights
of HSC-25, formed the 2515th Navy Air Ambulance Detachment, and relieved the
236th Army Air Ambulance Company as the primary MEDEVAC asset in Kuwait and
Southern Iraq. It was with great pride that HS-15 assumed the long
distinguished “DUSTOFF” call sign which is synonymous with all Medical
During this unique and intensive training period, the Red Lions also sent a
two helicopter detachment aboard USS HARRY S. TRUMAN to assist with the
evacuation and rescue efforts along the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricane
Katrina. During Joint Task Force Katrina, HS-15 took charge and was
responsible for the starting, launching, landing, and shutting down of all
HS, HSL, and HSC helicopters as other communities joined the task force
without bringing their own Plane Captains and LSE’s. On top of that, the Red
Lions flew 6 to 9 hour flights moving people from the Superdome to the
airport while the maintenance department worked a 24 hour schedule. Over 10
days, HS-15 made 72 rescues, 31 evacuations, delivered 12 tons of vital food,
and conducted 3 MEDEVACs.
In early 2006, half of the Red Lions deployed to Kuwait while the other half
continued MEDEVAC training. In May 2006, the Red Lions deployed their second
detachment to Kuwait on Thanksgiving to complete the year-long deployment.
While deployed, the 2515th Navy Air Ambulance Detachment flew 1,443 sorties,
2,503 hours, and conducted 331 MEDEVACS transporting 324 patients. The Red
Lions’ tireless contribution in Kuwait and Iraq embodied the DUSTOFF credo
“When I have your wounded” while instilling the Navy Search and Rescue credo
“So Others May Live”.
In January 2009, HS-15 sent a squadron detachment to Barstow, CA to work with
the SEAL teams and USMC units. The squadron prepared four HH-60Hs and 63
personnel to travel to Balad, Iraq in direct support of Combined Joint
Special Operations Air Component Command. Within 72 hours the Red Lions were
flying, and within a week assigned their first mission. After five months of
operations, the squadron had tallied 455 combat flight hours resulting in the
capture or kill of 21 High Value Targets.
Upon return from Balad, the squadron re-integrated and began to prepare for
the upcoming Southern Seas deployment in January 2010. The squadron rapidly
shifted from an overland desert environment to a traditional carrier-based
helicopter squadron. The Southern Seas deployment was the first part of the
huge change for HS-15, as the squadron would move from Jacksonville, Florida
to San Diego, California aboard yet another new carrier, the USS CARL VINSON.
On the first day of the deployment, 12 January, Port au Prince, Haiti was
rocked with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The squadron utilized their five
embarked SH-60F/HH-60H Seahawk helicopters in order to support the
humanitarian aid mission during Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE. At the end of the
operation, the squadron had flown 323 hours, conducted 135 MEDEVACs, and
transported 50 tons of food and 75 tons of water. The Southern Seas
deployment continued unabated and the squadron arrived at their new home in
San Diego in April 2010.
From 2010 to 2011, HS-15 deployed on the CARL VINSON with a WESTPAC
deployment. The Red Lions participated in bilateral exercises and conducted
training with the Royal Air Force of Oman in the overland mission skill sets.
While continuing to train pilots and sailors, the squadron executed daily
flight operations in support of ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN. Once again
from November 2011 until May 2012, the Red Lions deployed with the USS CARL
VINSON on a WESTPAC deployment. During this deployment HS-15 was invaluable
in supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. The Red Lions continued to build
relations with the Royal Air Force of Oman and build new relations with the
Indian Navy during this deployment.
On arriving back to homeport San Diego, HS-15 began transitioning to the new
MH-60S helicopter, and the squadron was officially redesignated as HSC-15 on
15 November of 2012. The Red Lions have proven their valor over the course of
the past 12 months, executing their primary mission in an operational environment.