Back from deployment, HC-4 now prepares to ship out of Europe
Stars and Stripes August 2, 2006
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Sicily — Vanessa Aramburu says she knows she’s going to make it as a Navy wife.
In less than a year, the Sicilian woman, who barely speaks English, married her American sailor, kissed him as he went off to war two months later, endured the chaos of a military move in his absence, and finally cried tears of joy as she watched him get off a C-9 on Tuesday that brought her love home to her.
“We did it. We’re finished, and I’m finally back,” husband and helicopter pilot Lt. Phillip Aramburu said as he embraced his wife.
But Tuesday’s homecoming to Naval Air Station Sigonella marked a bittersweet close of an era for Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Four. Families and sailors welcomed their own home from war but also were reminded of the approaching day in which, after a 23-year presence, HC-4 will no longer exist in Europe.
“We’re closing the squadron for good in September. Closing after 23 years,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Craig Comstock, officer in charge of HC-4 Detachment Sigonella.
Except for the last roughly 30 sailors of the squadron, who arrived Tuesday after a seven-month deployment to the Middle East, most of the “Black Stallions” of HC-4 already had relocated from Sigonella to Norfolk, Va., as part of an overseas base operations reduction.
HC-4 has about 300 sailors and eight MH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, four of which already moved to Norfolk, and four of which are in Kuwait.
While in Kuwait, the “Black Stallions” flew more than 1,000 hours, carrying out 130 combat missions and filling the Army’s void of medium- and heavy-lift helicopters in the region.
Because ground conditions in Iraq are so perilous for forces, the U.S. military flies personnel whenever possible. The squadron flew more than 4,000 passengers and carried about 350,000 pounds of cargo.
“Before we deployed, the upcoming PCS (permanent change of station) affected morale quite a bit,” said Cmdr. Eric Shirey, the squadron’s former commander. Sailors did not want to leave their spouses behind to deal with moving. “But once we got there, we were focused on the mission.”
On Monday, Shirey turned over command to Cmdr. Robert Buckingham during a ceremony held in Kuwait.
While it was tough for Amanda Hale to arrange for the family’s move in her husband’s absence, the stress actually provided a bit of a welcomed distraction, she said.
“I’m completely overwhelmed. It’s finally here. We’ve been counting down the days for what seems like forever, and now we’re counting down to an hour,” she said. “But [the PCS preparations] took my mind off of him being gone, being in Iraq,” she said of her husband, Chief Petty Officer James Hale, a helicopter door gunner.
As far as 7-year-old Jordan Hale is concerned, daddy has a lot of making up to do in the “playing outside” department with her and her sister Emma, 5.
“Today, my daddy is coming home and that is the reason we are all here,” she stated matter-of-factly. When asked what she missed most, she answered:
“The way he plays with us outside. He hangs us upside down. He’s got to do a lot of that now.”