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The Navy’s Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Four, based at Naval Station Sigonella, Sicily, is getting a new home.

The “Black Stallions” of HC-4 are moving to Norfolk, Va., as part of an overseas base operations reduction, Navy officials said. The move comes even as the squadron is prepping for a six-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom beginning in the early part of 2006.

The relocation plans will not change the squadron’s deployment, officials said. The process got started in July, when newly assigned sailors reported to Norfolk instead of coming to Sigonella, said Lt. Chris Servello, a 6th Fleet spokesman. Most of the roughly 300 sailors currently stationed at Sigonella will finish out their tours, Servello said.

HC-4 has eight MH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, some of which will move to Norfolk over the next calendar year, ending the transition by summer 2006. Norfolk already has facilities to accommodate the influx of both personnel and equipment.

The rest of the squadron will head to the Middle East because the Army has a shortage of medium-lift helicopters in the region, according to Cmdr. Eric Shirey, squadron commander.

“[The Army] asked the Navy to help out, and the Navy provided us,” Shirey said.

Planning and training for that mission started in December. In particular, crews are learning to operate in nighttime environments, something they’re not used to, said Shirey, who assumed command of the squadron June 17 after serving as HC-4’s executive officer since September 2004.

“That’s something new for pilots and aircrew [members] of the squadron,” he said. “A majority of their training is focused on learning to use night-vision goggles.”

The “Black Stallions” also are being equipped with defensive weapons systems such as a ramp-mounted .50-caliber machine gun, survivability equipment and missile warning and countermeasure systems.

In Europe, the squadron’s mission has been to provide heavy-lift combat support to European fleet units. After the move, U.S.-based detachments rotating through Sigonella deployments will perform the mission, a practice already done by rotating P-3 Orion squadrons.

Rotating squadrons, versus those permanently stationed overseas, help reduce both costs and the U.S. military’s footprint abroad.

Along those lines, the Sigonella-based Mobile Mine Assembly Unit Five (MOMAU 5) will be “disestablished,” and the roughly 30 sailors and the unit’s equipment will merge with MOMAU 11 at Naval Weapons Station Charleston, S.C., officials said.


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