Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR) 261, the "Raging Bulls", was activated on 5 April, 1951 at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. Throughout its history, the squadron has carried the tail code of "EM" on its aircraft.
In 1954, the squadron moved from Cherry Point to MCAS New River. Two years later, it was redesignated Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (Light) (HMR(L)) to reflect the acquisition of HUS helicopters to replace its HRS-1 helicopters. The squadron was, during this period, the first helicopter squadron to conduct troop lifts on the East coast. In 1959, the Bulls deployed to Okinawa, Japan before returning to New River the next year.
The squadron returned to Japan in 1961 and received its designation as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261. By that time the Bulls were flying the H-34 helicopter. In 1963, the Bulls were assigned to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16, based in DaNang, Republic of Vietnam. During their time at DaNang, HMM-261 conducted combat operations and delivered troops and supplies throughout the operating area. Over 80 Bulls received Air Medals for actions during this tour in Vietnam. In 1964, the squadron deployed aboard the USS Valley Forge as part of the Ready Landing Force in the Western Pacific, and was afterwards shore-based at MCAS Futenma, Okinawa. Following an active West PAC tour, HMM-261 returned to New River.
The squadron returned to Vietnam a year later for the second of three eventual tours. During this tour and the subsequent tour in 1965-1966, the Bulls operated from DaNang, Marble Mountain, ChuLai, and the USS Valley Forge. The squadron continued to fly the H-34 helicopter throughout both tours, and participated in several major offensives including: OPERATIONS DOUBLE EAGLE, UTAH, NEVADA, TEXAS, and HOT SPRINGS.
Throughout the 1965-1966 tour, the Bulls flew over 11,589 combat hours, 38,090 combat sorties, transported 47,522 troops into combat and 2,315 wounded. Many of the aircraft were shot up during troop insertions. The helicopters were hit 273 times. Because of their actions, the squadron was awarded the Presidential Unit Award (1st MAW) and the Navy Unit Commendation. Many of the pilots also received awards for their heroism which included the Navy Cross, Silver Stars, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Air Medals, Bronze Stars, Navy Commendations, Purple Hearts and Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry.
In 1966 the Bulls came home to New River again. During the late 1960's the squadron accepted their first brand-new CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. Throughout the 1970's, the Bulls participated in various training exercises in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Caribbean regions. It was during this time that the squadron added to their nickname and became the "Raging Bulls".
In 1982, the Raging Bulls deployed to Beirut, Lebanon. In October 1982, the squadron was about to be deployed again to Beirut, but was diverted to the Caribbean for the invasion of Grenada, code-named OPERATION URGENT FURY. There, the squadron provided assault support during the initial landings and subsequent operations ashore. Two AH-1 Cobras were shot down and three squadron pilots killed during the invasion. Two CH-46 helicopters were also shot down. Several hundred American students received their rides to safety aboard Raging Bull aircraft. Following this operation, HMM-261 deployed to war-ravaged Beirut. While stationed off Beirut, the squadron conducted missions in support of the 22D Marine Amphibious Unit ashore following the bombing of the Marine Barracks, and flew over 800 American and Lebanese citizens to safety.
From 1983-1990, the Raging Bulls continued to make Mediterranean cruises as part of Marine Amphibious Units (MAU), and later Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). In 1990, while part of a 22D MEU, the squadron took part in OPERATION SHARP EDGE which consisted of the evacuation and protection of American citizens in Liberia. In January 1991, following a quick turnaround in New River, the squadron deployed to Saudi Arabia for OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. With the ground war in full swing, the Raging Bulls flew numerous medevac and assault support missions in support of 2D Marine Division. The squadron returned home to New River in April 1991.
In October 1992, the squadron deployed as the aviation combat element (ACE) of 22D MEU. During this deployment, the squadron was part of OPERATION PROVIDE PROMISE. The Bulls assumed primary search and rescue (SAR) responsibility of all United Nations flights flying relief into war-torn Sarajevo. The Bulls remained at sea for 66 consecutive days on 24 hour alert. The Bulls returned back to the New River in April.
The squadron once again chopped to 22D MEU in October 1994. During this deployment, the Bulls returned to the Adriatic Sea and supported OPERATIONS DENY FLIGHT and PROVIDE PROMISE. Once again, they assumed primary SAR responsibility for all United Nations flights flying into the former Yugoslavia. The Bulls would return home that following April.
In November 1996, the squadron was attached to 22D MEU for a Landing Force 6th Fleet (LF6F) Mediterranean Sea deployment. Pre-deployment training took the squadron from New River to Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Eustis, Virginia, and several times to the USS KEARSARGE off the Onslow County coast. Following this, the squadron and the MEU were declared Special Operations Capable (SOC) and ready for the deployment.
In April 1997, HMM-261 (REIN) departed for LF6F 97-2 two weeks early to be on station in preparation for a pending Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in the country of Zaire, leaving behind a detachment of (4) CH-46's and (2) UH-1N's to board the USS Ponce (LPD- 15). The 22D MEU Forward, which included HMM-261(REIN) Det. A, departed on time and entered the Mediterranean Sea to cover the 22D MEU's commitments. During the deployment, the main body of the 22D MEU participated in two major operations: OPERATION GUARDIAN RETRIEVAL, operating out of Brazzaville, Congo; and OPERATION NOBLE OBELISK, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which resulted in the evacuation of more than 2,500 American citizens and foreign nationals. Meanwhile, HMM-261 (REIN)'s Detachment A participated in OPERATION SILVER WAKE in Tirana, Albania while still managing to conduct nine joint exercises with nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. HMM-261 returned to New River in October of 1997.
A year later, HMM-261 would be called upon to help provide hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. The squadron returned later that month to prepare for their next deployment. In September of 1999, HMM-261 was forced to move their aircraft to Norfolk to avoid Hurricane Fran. The squadron returned on the heels of the hurricane in order to complete their on-load for deployment with 22D MEU. Their first exercise was BRIGHT STAR in Egypt, where the squadron participated in the largest multinational exercise since the Gulf War. Two months later, they traveled to Israel to be on stand-by for contingency operations into the former Republic of Yugoslavia. HMM-261 returned in March of 2000 where they would prepare for their next deployment in 2002.
In February 2002, HMM-261 (REIN) once again embarked aboard ARG (Amphibious Ready Group) shipping in support of LF6F. Exercises to prepare for further operations in the 5th Fleet became the priority early in the deployment. The squadron Harriers participated in OPERATION INFINITE ANVIL while the ARG participated in exercises in the Horn of Africa. A permanent detachment of squadron aircraft aboard the USS Trenton participated in Exercise Sea Eagle while also sharing a milestone by making the LPDs 50,000 Class A mishap free landing.
Early in June 2002, the 22D MEU prepared for a NEO in Pakistan due to the increased tension between Pakistan and India. It was called upon again the next month to conduct operations in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM. Once off the coast of Pakistan, the MEU continued to plan for interdiction operations in Afghanistan. Concurrently, AV-8s flew the MEUs first reconnaissance flights over the country. Advanced parties were dispatched into Pakistan to conduct liaison with host nation agencies. In August, the ARG transited the Suez Canal bound for North Carolina.
The year 2003 brought about pre-deployment planning for OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM II, as well as administrative and logistical preparations for Desert Talon at MAWTS-1 Yuma, Arizona. Upon completion of Desert Talon in January 2004, HMM-261 embarked aboard the USS BATAAN, which carried the squadron and its assets to the Middle East. Upon arriving in the Persian Gulf, HMM 261 flew into First Marine Expeditionary Forces Area of Operation, where it was attached to the Third Marine Air Wing at Marine Corps Air Station, Al Asad.
While in Iraq, HMM-261 was fully engaged in various operations in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM II. The squadron continued to perform direct support missions in the form of Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC), Command and Control (C&C) standby, general support, re-supply, troop movements, VIP lifts and Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)/Quick Reaction Force (QRF) during the day and night. In September 2004, HMM-261 returned to MCAS, New River, where it was attached to Marine Aircraft Group 29. During the deployment, HMM-261 successfully completed over 2,000 Aviation Support Requests (ASRs), transported 8,358 passengers and 815,274 lbs of cargo, flew 3,058.2 hours and executed 1,941 sorties, with zero combat casualties or loss of any aircraft.
HMM-261 joined 22D MEU early in May to begin their pre-deployment training. In step with MEU and SOTG Planning, the Bulls reshaped their work-up training with the CENTCOM Theater Planning guidance. The focus was re-prioritized from traditional MEU (SOC) Mission Essential Task Lists (METL) to include stability and combat operations in Iraq, a focus on Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS). With this, the squadron preemptively conducted multiple exercises rehearsing the R2P2 process. This was followed by the MEU (SOC) workshop where the MEU defined its planning process. Immediately following the MEU (SOC) workshop, the Bulls conducted an extensive two-week Raid Training Package with 1st Battalion 2d Marines, flying multiple full mission profile raids.
During June and July, the squadrons operational tempo increased with multiple MEU exercises. In June, the squadron sent aircrew detachments to Fort A.P. Hill and Expeditionary Strike Group Interoperability Exercise (ESGINT) aboard the USS NASSAU. In July, the squadron completed VBSS training. During the course, the squadron practiced inserting the Maritime Special Purpose Force aboard ships. Two weeks after VBSS, the Raging Bulls headed to Savannah, Georgia for Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX). With ACE support, the MSPF received their certification, a highly unusual accomplishment so early in the work-up training cycle.
The peak of the training cycle came in August. Returning from TRUEX, the squadron had one week to prepare and embark aboard the USS NASSAU for the Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise (ESGEX). The Raging Bulls finished their pre-deployment training early in October with the completion of CERTEX. Overall, the 22D MEU had far exceeded their expectations. An SOTG evaluator described this as one of the best MEU work-ups seen. On November 8, 2005 HMM-261 (REIN) began their deployment.
The squadron spent twenty six days aboard the USS NASSAU before they arrived off the coast of Kuwait. On December 20th, HMM -261 (REIN) began its offload to Al Asad, Iraq. The fly-in took four days. Three days after their arrival, the Raging Bulls began to impact combat operations in Iraq by flying Assault Support, Close Air Support, Armed Reconnaissance, and Escort Missions.
Within the first four days of combat operations, the Raging Bulls would fly 454 hours and 273 sorties. The squadron conducted 194 Assault Support Requests (ASR) and 23 Joint Tactical Air Requests (JTAR). Flying both day and night, missions were conducted from the western border of Iraq to Baghdad. The squadrons fixed wing and attack helicopter assets were responsible for Convoy Escort, Armed Reconnaissance, Close Air Support and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The assault aircraft lifted 623 passengers and 76,600 lbs of cargo. With the pilots collective experience from previous deployments in Iraq, the Bulls made a rapid transition from theater familiarization to combat operations.
The Raging Bulls were relentless, pressing forward into the New Year. From January 1st until February 18th 2006, the squadron flew over 2,700 combined combat hours for all type model series (T/M/S). Over 4,700 passengers and 290,000 lbs of cargo were transported during this period.
With experience gained during the MEU work-ups, the squadron was able to fly any assigned mission with complete integration of all T/M/S. A mission of note occurred in January. A total of 11 aircraft were used in a helo raid to capture insurgents. The result of the mission was nine terrorist captured that had been linked with the production of IEDs that had been used around the local area. The Bulls were able to execute this mission flawlessly during a low light level night in austere weather conditions.
Along with their ability to provide fully integrated raid packages, the Bulls also displayed proficient skills in its ability to strike back at anti-coalition forces. The AV-8Bs provided Close Air Support which saved Marines lives. Marines had been under fire from a position inside a soccer stadium in Ramadi. This forced them to seek cover and suppressed their ability to observe. After the AV-8Bs conducted strafing runs and a Precision Guided Missile (PGM) strike on the stadium all actions by the enemy stopped.
On February 18th, 2006, the squadron ended combat operations and began preparing for the backload onto the USS NASSAU. The squadron completed its second tour in Iraq with no loss of life or aircraft. HMM-261(REIN)s two months time in Iraq made a difference in the II MEF AO. They provided relief for Second Marine Air Wings squadrons and most importantly supported the efforts of II Marine Expeditionary Force making its second tour a definite success.
On March 24th 2006, 22D MEU and the HMM-261(REIN) began IMAGE NAUTILUS in Djibouti. This exercise was vital as it gave the squadron an opportunity to get a great deal of initial training done for its junior pilots. Concurrent with squadron training, the squadron supported the MEU by providing standby CASEVAC. All training was flown from the ship, which required a great deal of coordination. Initial training flights were done for paraops, forward air controllers, defensive measures against fixed and rotary wing, air to air combat, Terrain Flight (TERF) instructors, TERF externals, HAC checks, and section/division lead checks. With the conclusion of the exercise, the Raging Bulls had completed 74 initial T&R training flights.
Following IMAGE NAUTILUS, the Raging Bulls began to travel eastward towards home. They made a stop in Palma, Spain to enjoy well deserved liberty. On May 1st 2006, the Bulls finally arrived off the coast of North Carolina. On the 3rd of May 2006, the Bulls were reunited with loved ones and family completing another successful deployment.
After returning from well deserved leave the Raging Bulls spent the next several months preparing for their upcoming chop to the 22D Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) planned for January 2007. In April of 2007 HMM-261 completed their first exercise aboard the USS Kearsarge. As the Raging Bulls continued their work ups for the 22D MEU they departed for Fort Picket Virginia for Marine Special Operations Capable Deployment Certification and Training in a Realistic Urban Environment Exercise. In June of 2007, HMM-261 (REIN) prepared for its final MEU PTP exercise, Certification Exercise (CERTEX). The first day of August 2007 marked the departure of the squadron on its deployment with the 22D MEU Special Operations Capable (SOC) for the transit across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean Sea. As the USS Kearsarge made its way into the Mediterranean Sea they sailed into Malta on 15 August for its first port call of the deployment. Following the port call in Malta the squadron conducted multiple operations in Djibouti and Kuwait. In September 2007 multiple Fragmentary Orders (FRAGs) were completed in support of the 22D MEU as well as a three day Assault Support mission into Bucca, Iraq in support of Army Central Command. During the mission, the squadron launched multiple waves of CH-46E sections to and from the Bucca Detention Facility.
In October after sailing south to the Port of Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, the USS Kersarge docked and began a much anticipated port call. On 1 November, the squadrons main body sailed southwest towards the coast of Somalia to participate in anti-piracy operations. On 15 November, after completing its final three days of armed reconnaissance missions in support of Operation BOW SPIRIT, the ACE main body on the USS Kearsarge was tasked to proceed east towards Bangladesh and began its support of Operation SEA ANGEL II, which consisted of humanitarian aid missions in order to provide food, water, blankets and medical supplies to the Bangladesh citizens affected by Tropical Cyclone Sidr. During Operation SEA ANGEL II, the squadron was able to move 378,420 pounds of food and supplies and transport 765 passengers. On 2 December the squadron main body was relieved by the 11th MEU that marked the end of humanitarian operations for the 22D MEU.
Following the relief in place, HMM-261 (REIN) sailed toward the Suez Canal marking the transition from Fifth Fleet to Sixth Fleet. After a short port call in Haifa, Israel the USS Kearsarge anchored off the coast of Israel in preparation for support of HMX-1 and the President of the United States. After three days of support the USS Kearsarge sailed west towards the Straits of Gibraltar destined for Rota, Spain. While in Rota, the Marines of the 22D MEU and ACE washed all transport containers, vehicles and equipment as well as enjoyed a four day port call which would be their last port call of the deployment. Upon completion of the wash down and port call in Spain the ship sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean. The squadron disembarked the 22D MEU and all ACE aircraft, personnel and equipment between 27 and 31 January 2008.
February and March of 2008 proved to be busy months while squadron began post deployment leave and prepared the squadron spaces for its re-designation as VMM-261. On 11 April HMM-261 commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James G. Flynn was designated as VMM-261 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony J. Bianca. A significant personnel shift occurred during the remainder of this month. Non-transitioning aircrew and maintainers commenced the checkout process and personnel transitioning to the new platform were sent to VMMT-204 for training. In August 2008 the squadron prepared for the influx of personnel, new furniture and its first MV-22 Osprey. On 23 October VMM-261 conducted their first operational flight. The focus for the remainder of 2008 was to support the fall Weapons Tactics Instructor Course.
During the early months of 2009 the squadron began ramping up operations for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Ground training and individual pilot qualifications were a major focus leading up to the deployment for training aboard Navy Auxiliary Field (NAF) El Centro, California. The squadron spent 6 weeks at NAF El Centro working on pre-deployment training as well as participating in Enhanced Mojave Viper (EMV). During EMV the squadron participated in Ground Air Integrated Training (GAIT) 1/2/3/4, Clear Hold Build (CHB) II, CHB III and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) exercises. Upon completion of EMV the squadron completed: two night systems instructors, five personnel high light level qualified and one tiltrotor aircraft commander (TAC).
On November 5th the main body of VMM-261 departed for Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. After only two short weeks of general support tasking, the Bulls took part in their first named operation. The Marines of Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan launched OPERATION COBRAS ANGER in the first part of December with an early morning insert. VMM-261 provided two aircraft for the mission and inserted 80 Recon Marines into multiple landing zones in vicinity of the town of Now Zad. The entire air package included AV-8s, AH-1Ws, UH-1Ys, CH-53Es and a KC-130.
The squadron continued to support COBRAS ANGER throughout December. During that time the squadron participated in a raid in support of Recon Marines and Afghan National Army Commandos in the town of Bar Now Zad. VMM-261 provided all four assault support aircraft for the mission. The air package was nearly the same as the previous mission near Now Zad.
December proved only to be the tip of the iceberg as the squadron settled into a very demanding and fast-paced working stride. During routine tasking in the middle of January, the Bulls responded to an immediate air support request from Third Battalion Fourth Marines, which were taking enemy fire in the vicinity of Bar Now Zad. The Bulls inserted a quick reaction force and carried three casualties from the insert location. The squadron executed another immediate air support request later that evening inserting 30 Marines from Now Zad to an area heavy with enemy contact.
Later that month, VMM-261 participated in Operation FAS LANDEY by launching a four-ship division. The Ospreys inserted two waves of Marines from Fourth Light Armored Reconnaissance and 4th Reconnaissance Battalion. Toward the end of January, the Bulls also inserted Marines from India Company Third Battalion Fourth Marines in the vicinity of Buji Bhast and Black Pass in order to conduct ongoing patrols and resupply.
In February the squadron lifted numerous very important persons (VIPs) starting with General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Sergeant Major Carlton W. Kent, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, throughout the area of operations for familiarization flights. In the middle of the month, the squadron inserted General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command along with 28 members of the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior into a forward operating base in vicinity of Marjeh. The Bulls wrapped up the month of February flying Karl W. Eikenberry, United States Ambassador to Afghanistan from Camp Bastion to Lashkar Gah.
In early March the squadron lifted the Honorable Mr. Robert M. Gates, United States Secretary of Defense. The first named operation of the month was in support of Operation SADDLE HORN. VMM-261 inserted members from the Afghan National Army and Special Operations Task Force to a landing zone in vicinity of Shingazi. The purpose of this mission was to clear an enemy safe-haven south of Marjeh. Later in the month the squadron lifted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen from Kabul to a landing zone in the heart of Marjeh and then onto Patrol Base Wilson. After a short stay at Patrol Base Wilson the Bulls moved him once more to Camp Nathan Smith, a forward operating base in the vicinity of Kandahar.
Toward the beginning of April the Bulls participated in Operation MELMASTYA which consisted of multiple VIP movements between Zaranj and Farah. Later in the month VMM-261 participated in OPERATION LIONS PREY, a three ship-tactical insert of approximately 60 Marines to a landing zone in the vicinity of Safaar Bazaar.
May was marked with new beginnings for the Raging Bulls as they conducted a change of command early in the month. On 5 May, the Marines of VMM-261 conducted a change of command, at which, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony J. Bianca relinquished command to Lieutenant Colonel Ivan G. Thomas. The majoity of the month was dedicated to VIP and general support tasking. Later in the month, the squadron supported Operation LITHIUM from 28-31 May. The operation consisted of multiple inserts and extracts to unimproved landing zones in close proximity to both the Pakistani and Iranian borders, in order to collect soil samples of the area. VMM-261 provided assault support for members from a United States Geological Survey Team as well as Marines of 3rd Recon Battalion. Other players participating in the mission were VMFA-232, a section of FA-18s, and armed intelligence surveillance reconnaissance. The purpose of the operation was to locate lithium ore for the Afghan people to exploit to aid the stabilization of their economy.
Overall the squadron participated in over 30 named operations, flew 2,853 hours, and moved over 24,900 passengers and 800,000 pounds of cargo. The Raging Bulls were given the chance to demonstrate the versatility of the MV-22 by flying missions as far north as Bagram, followed by a trip to the eastern and western board of Afghanistan all in the same day. Many missions of note were many trips into Marjeh as well as buildup of coalition forces along the Sangin River Valley to include the Kajaki Dam. During many of these missions the Bulls took fire with minor damages and continued their mission. As the Bulls continued to support Operation Enduring Freedom they proved to be a valuable asset to 3D MAW (FWD). The Raging Bulls returned home to MCAS New River, NC on 15 July 2010 and they look forward to their next big challenge.