From War Bears to Mules: Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60 Detachment 2 Provides Back-to-Back Critical Support to EUCOM, NATO Maritime Group 2
03 May 2023
NAVAL AIR STATION JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 60 Detachment 2 (HSM-60.2), spent the majority of 2022 deployed supporting near back-to-back operations embarked aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) and USS Donald Cook (DDG 75).
The “Jaguars” of HSM-60, based out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, have supported a range of operations in the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Electronic Warfare (EW) and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) mission sets, as well as Airborne Use of Force (AUF) in support of the Counter-Illicit Trafficking (CIT) mission.
In 2021, HSM-60 was preparing for a scheduled summer 2022 deployment with Forrest Sherman. However, just before New Year’s Day 2022, HSM-60 received an order to be ready to deploy from Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet in order to support European Command (EUCOM) operations. With only six days warning, the final order came in to depart on January 17, 2022.
Despite the limitations of working through a holiday stand down period, the squadron readied a complete detachment, including maintenance personnel and aircrew. Two aircraft and 30 “Jaguars” departed on schedule aboard Forrest Sherman.
“Due to the shortened timeline, each Sailor on this detachment was handpicked based on experience and superior performance,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rich Grant, the detachment’s officer in charge (OIC) for the initial deployment. “The team worked tirelessly during that week, along with crucial homeguard support, to get their aircraft, personnel, and gear ready to meet the mission in short order.”
HSM-60.2, then newly dubbed the “War Bears,” proceeded to join up with the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) for a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) off the coast of Virginia. The ship and air team were faced with a slew of challenges, including the rapid integration into the Kearsarge ARG air plan, along with ice and fog conditions throughout the exercise.
Despite the fast pace and dynamic operational flow, the detachment integrated seamlessly and helped Forrest Sherman obtain its qualification for deployment.
This exercise flowed directly into a Naval Undersea Warfare Training Assessment Course (NUWTAC) with a U.S. submarine for two weeks, where HSM-60.2 upgraded their ASW skills to support EUCOM theater operations.
Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the team was tasked to conduct presence operations and power projection aboard Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.
During this underway period, HSM-60.2 completed 81 sorties and 227 mishap-free flight hours in direct support of operational tasking, arriving back in Jacksonville on April 22nd.
The “War Bears” were provided six weeks to recharge, replenish their gear, and enjoy time with their families prior to departing on the originally planned summer 2022 deployment.
Lt. Cmdr. Ryan McDonough assumed the duties of OIC, and the detachment took on a new name, “The Mules,” as they embarked Forrest Sherman again and departed from Norfolk on June 11, en route to the Mediterranean.
Shortly after the ship arrived in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations, Rear Adm. Michael Sciretta also embarked Forrest Sherman and assumed flagship duties for Standing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2). This coalition provides NATO with immediate operational response capability and in the summer and fall of 2022 was comprised of U.S., Spanish, Turkish, Italian, French and Greek naval warships.
The “Mules” participated in numerous exercises and operational tasking with these coalition ships and their embarked helicopters, supporting each other in the ASW, ASuW and EW mission requirements. This included conducting coordinated ASW operations with Turkish and Spanish helicopters.
The detachment went on to support NATO exercise Dynamic Mariner, as well as the Italian exercise Mare Aperto and Greek exercise Niriis. Strengthening the coalition through training and in-port relationship building was a critical part of the mission.
Throughout the underway period, the detachment made multiple port visits to receive logistics support and conduct aircraft maintenance. Port visits included Gdansk, Poland; Stockholm, Sweden; Aksas, Turkey; and Split, Croatia. These visits provided the ship and air team time to experience the vast history and proud culture of the region.
From conducting community relations in Gdansk, packaging clothing and goods for Ukrainian refugees in Poland, to hosting Swedish dignitaries in Stockholm, the time in port was a valuable experience for the detachment’s and ship’s Sailors.
In total, the HSM-60.2 deployment period extended 295 days in direct support of EUCOM and SNMG2 operational tasking.
The detachment returned to Jacksonville on December 23, having successfully executed 203 sorties and 570 mishap-free flight hours with a 97 percent sortie completion rate. Their efforts helped maintain a de-escalatory presence in the region and supported their operational commanders with critical intel and a clear maritime picture.
HSM-60 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Seth “Sweaty” DiNola, praised the detachment’s Sailors for their outstanding performance.
“I cannot be more proud of the HSM-60.2 team,” said DiNola. “They have operated at a very high level and have played a critical role in meeting the associated tasking in the European area of responsibility.”
“Their presence in the Eastern Atlantic, the North Sea, the Danish Straits, the Baltic Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea provided stability to those areas throughout 2022,” DiNola continued. “Through all the uncertainty of their operational timeline, the detachment was able to show resiliency and resolve to remain focused on the mission. Their commitment to each other and to the HSM-60 Jaguars is a reflection of their American spirit and their commitment to service.”
HSM-60 is a Navy Reserve squadron that delivers strategic depth and surge force capabilities, providing commanders ready assets to support operational tasking on short notice. As an operational HSM squadron, their primary mission is providing Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), and Electronic Warfare (EW) support to the fleet, embarking 2 MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters on air capable surface ships.