|Helicopter Mines Countermeasures Squadron 15|
HM-15 Blackhawks insignia
|Active||January 2, 1987 - present|
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Part of||Helicopter Sea Combat Wing, US Atlantic Fleet|
|Garrison/HQ||Naval Station Norfolk|
|Engagements||Operation Desert Storm|
|Decorations||Humanitarian Service Medal
CNO Safety Award (2)
Meritorious Unit Commendation (2)
Battle Efficiency Award
Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM-15) is a United States Navy helicopter squadron based at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. Nicknamed the "Blackhawks" and flying the MH-53E Sea Dragon, it is staffed by both active duty and reserve personnel. It is the sister squadron to HM-14, the "Vanguard", based a half-mile away at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. 
The Blackhawks were established on 2 January 1987, as the first of two similar active duty squadrons at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. On 1 October 1987, the squadron's permanent duty station changed to Naval Air Station Alameda, California (just outside of Oakland).
In October 1989 the squadron was called upon to provide support for disaster relief effort after an earthquake devastated Loma Prieta, California. To assist they lifted full size construction backhoe tractors and assisted in other air-lift operations. The unit was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal for their efforts.
The squadron was involved in its first major conflict in 1991 when it deployed a three aircraft, 100 man detachment to the Persian Gulf in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The squadron remained in theater until April 1992 after transporting over 3.2 million pounds of cargo and more than 4,000 personnel. They have also been involved in Operation Enduring Freedom most notably through deployments to Bahrain.
HM-15 and the reserve squadron HM-19 were the first squadrons in the U.S. Navy to combine and fully integrate active and reserve squadrons. HM-19 was soon afterwards decommissioned, with the integrated squadron maintaining the HM-15 designation, mascot, and insignia. The integration was completed on 5 November 1994.
Due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), with the slated closure of Naval Air Station Alameda, California, on 30 June 1996, the permanent duty station of the squadron was officially moved to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. In 2010 it was moved due to BRAC once again, and now calls Norfolk, Virginia home.
At times, HM-15 has had more than 750 personnel. Her largest work center, the "Line Division" boasts at times nearly a hundred personnel, supporting rotating "round the clock" operations. Her second largest work center, the "Airframes and Hydraulics Shop" has almost 60 personnel. She also has one of the "World's Greatest" Administrative Departments. Broken down into Admin and Personnel, this handful of about 10 Sailors take care of all 750 HM-15 members pay, special requests, leave, evaluations, fitreps, and awards.
The squadron has deployed to locations like Bahrain, South Korea, the Middle East via the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. HM-15 also took part in Joint Task Force Katrina and was part of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts while working with the USS Bataan (LHD-5). She has operated from the flight decks of the USS Tripoli (LPH-10), the USS Juneau (LPD-10), the USS Denver (LPD-9), the USS Inchon (LPH-12), the USS Saipan (LHA-2), the USS Bataan (LHD-5), and the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3).
The current Commanding Officer is Commander Richard B. Thomas who is slated to be relieved by the Executive Officer, Commander Sara "Nitro" Santoski in May 2012. The squadron's Command Master Chief is Master Chief Petty Officer Bobby Anderson.
After a helicopter crash that killed two sailors in Bahrain in July 2012, squadron commander Commander Sara Santoski and Master Chief Petty Officer Bobby T. Anderson were relieved of duty and reassigned.
Using the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, they patrol foreign and domestic waters to locate and destroy sea-based mines that would harm water craft, and map safe sea-lanes of travel. Mines can be triggered by any number of methods ranging from contact to electronic signature. While the aircraft hovers safely above the sea, it is capable of dragging through the water a wide variety of instruments and machines to accomplish the mission. In harbors, coordination with EOD Divers helps to clear more shallow waters safely.
Squadron deployments have been executed all over the globe, for operational, training, humanitarian, and foreign relations tasking.
Due to the capabilities of the huge heavy-lift aircraft used, the squadron also performs the missions of assault support and cargo transport when deployed. The squadron has even air lifted a full size construction back-hoe tractor and assisted in other air-lift operations in the Oakland, California area during the aftermath of the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989.
HM-15 was the first squadron to load two MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters into a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft. To do so, all seven blades and the main rotor head is removed, the tail folded, and the helicopter inched slowly into the cabin. Pressure in tires and struts must be lowered and raised at appropriate stages in order to get the main gear box shaft to clear the overhead while going up the ramp.
It is not rare to see the squadron maintaining an operational "home" detachment while supporting two separately located far-flung deployments in other places of the world.
Training and Other Notables
HM-15 is the first U.S. Navy squadron to combine and consolidate training requirements between the USN and the USNR. Changes here had ripple effects all the way up to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) as instructions were researched and updated.
HM-15 is the first squadron to utilize a fully computerized training documentation system with a graphical user interface (GUI), called "Train'em!". This training planning and documentation system replaced hundreds of man-hours of hand-documentation, with one or two personnel and a networked database that synchronized with the administration personnel database, and generated the necessary government training logs required for training documentation and inspections, for "ground-pounder", "aircrew", and "officer" training. This system was eventually distributed to sister squadron, HM-14, and to other naval commands.
They are the first squadron to boast its own modern IT work center with certified staff to support all IT functions including cabling, networking, database management, and computer maintenance. This capability was replaced by the Navy and Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) in 2002.
HM-15 maintains a trainer with a full size articulated mockup of the cabin and gear of an MH-53E for training Enlisted Aircrew in the roles of mine countermeasures and operational procedures. It is a fairly significant "stage", looking reminiscent of a huge theme park reality ride, and a brand new building was constructed to house both it and the Squadron Training Department.
- "Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fifteen". Global Security.org. Retrieved 2007-01-18.
- "HM-15 moves into new home at NS Norfolk". WAVY TV 10 web article. US Navy. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
- "Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fifteen". US Navy. AMCM. Retrieved 2007-01-18.
- "• Command History Of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fifteen". Naval Historical Center. US Navy. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
- "BRAC 2005 Department of Navy Major Base Realignments". Department of the Navy BRAC PMO. US Navy. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
- Bozick, Tara, "Navy: Norfolk Helicopter Squadron Commander Relieved Of Duty", Newport News Daily Press September 2, 2012
- Official Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center - HM-15 Squadron History
- Official U.S. DOD BRAC 2005 Impacts By State (PDF)
- Unofficial site noting BRAC effects on HM-15
- HM-15 Brief History Narrative (not an official site, with bulk of text obviously condensed from other sites)
- The Airborne Mine Countermeasures Website (not an official site)