|Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261|
|Active||April 5, 1951 - present|
|Type||Medium-lift Tiltrotor Squadron|
|Role||Conduct air operations in support of the Fleet Marine Forces|
|Part of||Marine Aircraft Group 26|
2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
|Garrison/HQ||Marine Corps Air Station New River|
|Motto(s)||"First in, Last out"|
Operation Urgent Fury
Operation Sharp Edge
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom
* Operation Cobra's Anger
|Andrew "Florida Boi" Thompson|
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (VMM-261) is a United States Marine Corps tiltrotor squadron consisting of MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft. The squadron, known as the "Ragin Bulls", is based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina and typically falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 26 (MAG-26) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW). They are the fourth squadron in the Marine Corps to transition to the MV-22 Osprey.
Provide assault support of combat troops, supplies and equipment during amphibious operations and subsequent operations ashore. Routinely, VMM squadrons provide the foundation for an aviation combat element (ACE) of any level Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) mission that may include conventional assault support tasks and special operations.
Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 261 (HMR-261) was activated on April 5, 1951 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. From 1951 through 1956, HMR-261 carried the tail code of "HM." Since then, it has carried the tail code of "EM" on its helicopters.
In 1954, the squadron moved from MCAS Cherry Point to its current home, MCAS New River, North Carolina. In October 1954, HMR-261 embarked its HRS helicopters on the aircraft carrier USS Saipan and sailed for Haiti where they flew humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions following Hurricane Hazel. In 1956, the squadron was re-designated Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (Light) 261 (HMR(L)-261) to reflect the acquisition of the H-34 Choctaw to replace its HRS-1 helicopters. The squadron was the first helicopter squadron to conduct troop lifts on the East coast. In 1961, the squadron was re-designated Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (HMM-261). The squadron was, by then, flying the UH-34D helicopter. During 1962, HMM-261 was embarked aboard USS Boxer and subsequently USS Thetis Bay for support during the Cuban Blockade. Returning to MCAF New River, HMM 261 was deployed to the southern United States during the Civil Rights Movement to support freedom marches in the spring of 1963. Returning to MAG-26, MCAF New River, HMM-261 prepared to stand down for subsequent transfer of its colors to the Western Pacific.
In 1963, the Bulls were assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 16, and as part of Operation Shufly they were based at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. During their time at Danang, HMM-261 conducted combat operations and delivered troops and supplies throughout the operating area. In 1964, the squadron, deployed aboard USS Iwo Jima as part of the Ready Landing Force in the Western Pacific, participating in training exercises in the Philippine Islands and Taiwan and was afterwards shore-based at MCAS Futenma, Okinawa until returning the squadron colors to MCAF New River.
During the 1965-66 tour, the Bulls operated from Da Nang AB, Marble Mountain, K? Hà, and USS Valley Forge. The squadron continued to fly the H-34 helicopter throughout both tours, and participated in several major offensives including: Operations Starlite, Harvest Moon, Double Eagle, Utah, Nevada, Texas, and Hot Springs. During its 1965-66 tour HMM-261 flew 11,859 combat hours, MEDEVAC-ed 2,315 wounded, flew 38,090 combat sorties, ferried 47,522 troops into battle and expended 32,610 rounds of ammunition. Throughout its three combat tours in Vietnam, many of the units' helicopters were badly shot up while performing medevacs and troop insertion missions; during 1965-1966, its helicopters were hit 273 times with many aircraft destroyed. Squadron members were awarded personal decorations from the Navy Cross on down.
In 1966, the Bulls came home to New River again. During the late 1960s, the squadron accepted their first, brand new CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. The squadron later flew an updated model of the same helicopter, the CH-46E. Throughout the 1970s, 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 1983, the squadron had just departed Naval Base Norfolk aboard USS Guam heading toward Beirut, but received word to divert to the Caribbean for the invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury. There, the squadron provided the only helicopters for the initial landings of Marines and subsequent operations for the entire JTF until Army helicopters arrived on the third day of action. (Delta Force had arrived by Army helicopters as part of the initial assault, but after day one all the Army helicopters were unavailable due combat damage. While providing Close Air Support to Army forces, two AH-1T (Cobra] were shot down resulting in three squadron pilots being killed. Later one CH-46 was damaged beyond repair during the successful rescue of several hundred American students at the Medical School's Grand Anse Campus, while inserting Rangers of 2nd BN, 75th Ranger Regt. Following this operation, HMM-261 resumed its mission to continue to war-ravaged Beirut, to relieve 24th MAU which had endured the bombing of the Marine barracks. While stationed off Beirut, the squadron conducted a variety of missions in support of the 22D Marine Amphibious Unit located ashore, US 6th Fleet and the Department of State (flying diplomats to/from the various meetings and evacuating over 800 American and Lebanese citizens to safety.)
In 1990, 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 Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. With the ground war in full swing, the Raging Bulls flew numerous medevac and assault support missions in support of 2nd Marine Division. The squadron returned home to New River on May 13, 1991.
April 15, 1997 saw HMM-261 prepared for a pending Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in the country of Zaire, leaving behind a detachment of four CH-46s and two UH-1Ns to board USS Ponce. The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Forward, which included HMM-261 (REIN) Det. A departed on time and entered the Mediterranean Sea to cover the 22nd MEU's commitments. During the deployment, the main body of the 22nd 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 Det. A participated in Operation Silver Wake in Tirana, Albania. A year later, in October 1998, HMM-261 was called upon to help provide hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.
In July 2002, the MEU was called upon to conduct operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Once off the coast of Pakistan, the MEU continued to plan for interdiction operations in Afghanistan. Concurrently AV-8's flew the MEU's first reconnaissance flights over the country. Advanced parties were dispatched into Pakistan to conduct liaison with host nation agencies.
2003 brought about pre-deployment planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Upon arriving in the Persian Gulf, HMM 261 flew into 1st Marine Expeditionary Force's Area of Operation, where it was attached to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Al Asad Airbase. This was the first such integration of this scale in Marine Corps History, and the Raging Bulls were integral to its success.
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 lb of cargo, flew 3,058.2 hours and executed 1,941 sorties, with zero combat casualties or loss of any aircraft.
On November 8, 2005, HMM-261 (REIN) conducted their onload to USS Nassau to begin their current deployment as part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. They were based at Al Asad air base in western Iraq and on their third tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The squadron finished its latest tour in Iraq in late March 2006, accomplishing 1,845 sorties and over 3,000 combat flight hours providing medevacs and close air support.
In late 2007, the squadron served as the aviation combat element for the 22nd MEU. From September 25 to October 11, 2007, AV-8B Harrier II's attached to HMM-261 flew 70 combat missions over Afghanistan providing aerial reconnaissance, close air support and convoy escort in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Following the impact of Cyclone Sidr on November 15, 2007, helicopters from the squadron operating from USS Kearsarge off the coast of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal provided humanitarian assistance to those affected by the cyclone.
VMM-261 deployed to Afghanistan in November 2009 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It marked the first deployment of the MV-22 Osprey to Afghanistan and in early December the squadron supported their first major combat operation when they lifted troops and supplies in support of Operation Cobra's Anger.
On 11 April 2012, an MV-22 from the VMM-261 crashed near Agadir, Morocco, during a joint training exercise after taking off from USS Iwo Jima. Two Marines were killed and two others were seriously injured, and the aircraft was lost. A Marine Corps investigation later deemed the crash was due to pilot error, not a mechanical or safety problem.