After more than a decade of continuous deployments, HSC-84 and its overseas detachment have earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Bronze Stars, 120 Air Medals with Valor, more than 14,000 strike/fight awards and over 18,000 flight hours, including more than 14,000 in combat against 732 high-value targets, said squadron commanding officer Cmdr. Quinton Packard.
It was a bittersweet occasion for the squadron, members told Navy Times, because though they were celebrating a homecoming, a likely disestablishment is the reason for Detachment 1's return.
Several years of back and forth between the Navy and SOCOM over who would fund these Navy-operated, jointly utilized forces ended in a decision to shut down outlined in the Navy's fiscal year 2016 budget proposal.
told Navy Times in an Oct. 15 phone interview,
"We've kind of been on-again off-again, especially with the congressional pause over the period of my command, which has been a little frustrating for the sailors because they're trying to negotiate for orders, but at the same time, they're not sure if they're staying here or going somewhere else," Packard said in a phone interview a day before the ceremony.
As of Oct. 16, he said, he is preparing the squadron for a March shutdown. Unless a final congressional decision in the National Defense Authorization Act keeps the squadron open, they will stop flying by the end of November.
Some of the squadron's 14 original helos are bound for HSC-85, while others will end up in the Navy's aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, as the older airframe is phased out.
"It will be a shore tour," Packard said. "They'll be flying with pilots from the other squadrons on the sea wall in the SOF and PR mission sets."
Some are concerned about the efficacy of those units, however.
A patch commemorating the likely shutdown of HSC-84 and HSC-85 in 2016. These secretive helo squadrons are the Navy's only two squadrons dedicated to flying special operations missions.
Photo Credit: Meghann Myers/Staff
Keeping those detachments alive would be a plus for many of the squadron members who have been assigned to 84 for decades, who could use their skills at a TSU.
For others, the likely end of 84 altogether will mean moving on. One pilot, who's been assigned to the squadron since 1996, is looking at retirement.
"Reserve, at a squadron like this, does not mean one weekend a month and two weeks a year," said Cmdr. Leon Garber, who has served as combat mission lead, department head and twice as executive officer while deployed with the squadron. "As a pilot, reserve time would be five or six days a month and at least 30 days a year of active-duty for a couple weeks at a time, going on training detachments."
"It's hard for me because it's all I know, I have a lot of sentimental ties to this place," he added.
Toledo is headed for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, to work with their search and rescue command. It's a similar job to what he's trained on, he said. But it does mean learning the newer MH-60S Knighthawk helo.
He's not nervous, he said, but, "I think it's more of a pain in the butt that I have to go to school again."
A final decision on the future of the Navy's SOF-support capabilities rests with Congress and the defense authorization bill, Leavitt said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT