CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan (4/9/2012) - “‘Gunfighters rule' is more than a motto, it's a way of life,” said Lt. Col. Ian Clark, the commanding officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, at the squadron's 40th anniversary and battle colors ceremony aboard Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, April 1, 2012.
The sun sets as UH-1Y Huey crews with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, the “Gunfighters,” fly across the flight line on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, April 1, 2012. The Gunfighters continued combat operations while celebrating their 40th anniversary. Photo by USMC Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot
The HMLA-369 “Gunfighters” affixed the Navy Unit Commendation streamer with four Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Unit Commendation streamer with three Bronze Stars, the Afghanistan Campaign streamer with one Bronze Star and the Iraq Campaign streamer with four Bronze Stars to the squadron's battle colors.
“We were activated in combat, during the Vietnam War. Forty years later, on the birthday, we're in Afghanistan,” said Clark, a Shelby, Ohio, native.
Gunfighter history dates back to 1972, when the squadron first stood up to support combat operations in Vietnam. Since then, the Gunfighters have participated in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Restore Hope and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
“Seeing all those Gunfighters in formation and the new battle streamers reminded me of all the Marines who have come before us,” said Sgt. Levi Bjorkman, the HMLA-369 career planner and Niagara, Wis., native. “I feel honored to be a part of Gunfighter history.”
Gunfighter history includes 11 consecutive awards for safety. The squadron has recently earned the Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award for 10,000 mishap-free flight hours for the 11th time.
Currently, the squadron is focusing its efforts on close-air-support missions, giving other aircraft and Marines on the ground the security of Gunfighter muscle.
Clark ended the ceremony with a “Gunfighter salute” – flexing both arms overhead, mimicking the shape of the two cobras on their squadron patch – instead of a more traditional salute. Gunfighters perform this salute whenever their aircraft take off from the flight line. The Gunfighter salute is yet another unique tradition that sets the squadron apart.
For the Gunfighters' future, Clark has high hopes.
“The standard that those Gunfighters of the past have set ... if we could do that for the next 40 years, that would be great.”
By USMC Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot
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