By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Christian B. Martinez

U.S. 5th FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY- Be prepared and mission ready at all times. This is one of the primary goals of the “Raptors” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71, which is currently asserting its presence in the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lt. Erik Granum, a pilot assigned to HSM-71 aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), said that they are accomplishing this goal by identifying all air, surface and subsurface contacts that could potentially pose a threat to the carrier strike group. If there are hostiles in the area, the Raptors will be ready to engage them or call in other assets to meet them.

Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 1st Class Neale McPheron, an HSM-71 tactical sensor operator, said that a typical flight consists of surface search and classification.

“It’s basically the theory of a bull’s-eye,” said McPheron. The carrier is in the center of that bull’s-eye. Sea Hawks circle the carrier, identifying all contacts within a certain range. Once the area is deemed secure the range is extended and the process repeats itself.

“When we’re in the [Arabian] Gulf, there are a lot of surface contacts,” said McPheron.

According to Granum, when the squadron is not flying, maintenance checks are performed to make sure helicopters are functioning at peak efficiency. While ordnance men arm the aircraft by handling flares, torpedoes and hellfire missiles, avionics and electronic technicians work on the aircraft systems and air framers work on the aircraft frame. Mechanics inspect the engine and perform necessary tune-ups. There is also the line division, which is essential in making sure helicopters are ready for takeoff, he added.
Avionics Technician 1st Class Luis D. Rodriguez, HSM-71’s line division leading petty officer, said his division is responsible for safely launching and recovering aircraft as well as fueling helicopters for their next flight. Through this work, Rodriguez earned the title of Shogun Warrior of the Quarter, which is awarded to a hardworking Sailor who represents all nine aviation squadrons embarked aboard the carrier. He and his team recognize the importance of keeping the Raptors’ aircraft physically and technologically sound.

“I was fortunate enough to have a good group of people to help me accomplish the job,” said Rodriguez. “They lifted me up to a position where I was able to be selected. I’m proud of my guys.”

One of the most crucial strengths of HSM-71 is the technological and combat capabilities of the MH-60R. The title Raptor is well deserved, as the tools possessed by the aircraft make it every bit as observant as the creature for which it is named.

McPheron said because of its specialized equipment, which includes dipping sonar, the MH-60R’s unique strength is anti-submarine warfare. Its high-powered sonar is a vital asset to the strike group.
“The only platforms out here that have documented better radar systems than ours are some of the F/A-18s and Hawkeyes,” said McPheron.

In order to improve flight operations tactics and procedures a debriefing is held after each flight, he said. During this time, pilots discuss which phases of the flight went well and which phases could be improved upon.

Granum keeps true to the Stennis’ slogan, “look ahead,” when he says, “we’re looking forward into the future and taking advantage of any opportunities that might be available to us to get people acclimated to different parts of the job.”

By accomplishing this task, exercising teamwork and consistently preparing for different scenarios, the Raptors of HSM-71 can keep their talons sharp and their eyes ever vigilant.

The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG), consisting of Stennis, CVW 9, Destroyer Squadron 21, and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), is forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom.

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