The Navy’s last special warfare-dedicated helicopter squadron, the Navy Reserve’s “Firehawks” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 85, held a deactivation ceremony in the squadron’s hangar, June 30.
The squadron was joined by friends and family, as well as Sailors and veterans formerly assigned to HSC-85 and previously deactivated squadrons from the community. The ceremony honored not only HSC-85, but also its heritage from its forebears specializing in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), dating back to the Vietnam War with the Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) (HAL) 3 Seawolves, established April 1, 1967.
HSC-85 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Nick “Snowflake” Ryan addressed those in attendance.
“We gather today to commemorate the many accomplishments of HSC-85,” said Ryan before pausing to recognize the Firehawks and their predecessors in attendance.
“We are humbled to be joined today by all the members of the storied squadrons that paved the way for the many accomplishments of the Firehawks and have shared in our success every day,” said Ryan. “May I ask you to stand as I speak, so that we can acknowledge your service and sacrifice from you and your shipmates.”
The “Seawolves” of HAL-3, “Protectors” of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 9, “Red Wolves” of HAL-4, “Bluehawks” of HAL-5, “Red Wolves” of Helicopter Combat Support Special Squadron (HCS) 4 and HSC-84, and “Firehawks” of HCS-5 and HSC-85 stood in turn, being thanked and applauded by the crowd around them.
“Thank you all for your service and sacrifice to our nation,” said Ryan.
Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve (CNAFR) Rear Adm. Brad “Gunny” Dunham then took the podium.
“Personally, when I think of the legacy of the Firehawks in naval aviation, the list is truly endless,” said Dunham. “Your approach to mission planning, innovation, and most importantly, ruthless execution, are just a few examples that are critical to success in combat.”
Dunham spoke to the squadron’s heritage, accomplishments and culture, emphasizing the incredible value of today’s Firehawks’ knowledge and experience to naval aviation as they move on to new squadrons and commands.
“Firehawks, we ask all of you to bring your leadership, your training and your skills with you throughout the naval aviation enterprise as we move forward to enhance naval aviation across the fleet,” said Dunham. “Your unique experience brings indescribable value. In our enterprise, we can’t afford to relearn the lessons of the past. Thank you for your courageous service and dedicated preservation of our national defense. Fair winds and following seas, and we’ll see you in the fleet.”
Chief of the Navy Reserve (CNR) Vice Adm. John Mustin stood to speak to the legacy of the squadron and its predecessors from the Vietnam War, to Operation Desert Storm and beyond.
“Over decades, the HSC-85 ‘Firehawks’ and their predecessors have adapted to the many demands of our national security challenges,” said Mustin. “There are few in the Navy with the vast legacy that you Firehawks have. Your service, your achievements and your sacrifice are both exemplary and legendary.”
The ceremony’s guest speaker, Executive Assistant to CNR Capt. Quinton “QP” Packard, has a long history with the squadron and its community, having served both as commanding officer of HSC-84 and commodore of the wing to which both HSC-84 and HSC-85 belonged, the Navy Reserve’s Maritime Support Wing (MSW).
“So, here we are,” said Packard. “Seven years, three months, 10 days ago, I stood on a similar stage in Norfolk, Virginia in front of a similarly large crowd, some of whom are here today, and disestablished the Firehawk’s sister squadron, the ‘Red Wolves’ of HSC-84. In my list of favorite days, that might be the bottom, and this one won’t be far behind.”
Packard shared stories from his time serving with HSC-84 and as commodore of MSW, emphasizing that anything he could say about the community would only be a short and simple version of an extraordinary history.
After Packard departed the podium, the ceremony ended bittersweetly. Firehawks and attendees reminisced proudly as they shared in refreshments, veterans of the deactivated squadrons gathered for group photos, and a strong sense of community filled the hangar.
Though the Firehawks are preparing to close their doors in Fall of 2023, their legacy will live on in the expertly-cultivated skill of their Sailors as they move on to new squadrons, as well as in the memory of every Firehawk, those who served before them, and those who have worked alongside them.
In Honor of 56 Years of Dedicated NSW and CSAR Support (1967-2023)
Active Component Squadrons:
“Seawolves” of HAL-3 (April 1967 – March 1972)
“Sea Devils” of HC-7 (September 1967 – June 1975)
Reserve Component Squadrons:
“Protectors” of HC-9 (August 1975 – July 1990)
“Red Wolves” of HAL-4/HCS-4/HSC-84 (July 1976 to March 2016)
“Bluehawks” of HAL-5 (March 1977 – October 1989)
“Firehawks” of HCS-5 (October 1989 – December 2006)
“Firehawks” of HSC-85 (September 2010 – September 2023)
CNAFR mans, trains and equips the Naval Air Force Reserve in order to provide enduring operational support and strategic depth to Navy forces that win in combat.