Airwolves commemorate Anzac Day in Alabama

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Aaron Cochrane (author), Mrs Fiona Tremlett (photographer)

Location(s): Fort Rucker, Alabama, USA

Topic(s): 723 Squadron, Naval History, Anzac Day

ADF personnel attending the Fort Rucker Anzac Day service. L-R: CAPT James Highfield; CAPT Charles Hall; CAPT Shane Mitchell; LSA Leeann Mumby; LEUT Aaron Cochrane; and LEUT Grant Rushford. (photo: Mrs Fiona Tremlett)
ADF personnel attending the Fort Rucker Anzac Day service. L-R: CAPT James Highfield; CAPT Charles Hall; CAPT Shane Mitchell; LSA Leeann Mumby; LEUT Aaron Cochrane; and LEUT Grant Rushford.

Royal Australian Navy personnel are posted to all corners of the globe, integrating into the forces of partner nations, contributing to and improving Navy capability. Navy members currently posted to the United States Navy’s Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 40, known as the Airwolves, recently provided an insight into Anzac Day for their US counterparts.

While the Anzac Day services remembered veterans who had served in all wars, military and peacekeeping operations, the Fort Rucker service focussed on personnel who deployed as members of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam and the United States Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company. Several veterans had travelled from Australia for the annual event as well as to spend time with US veterans in attendance who they had served alongside, reflecting on their joint efforts many years ago.

RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam was formed by members of 723 Squadron in 1967 following a request from the United States Army to send more helicopter crews to the conflict. Australia responded, and on 14 July 1967 the unit was formed and was integrated with their US counterparts flying Iroquois helicopters in both gunship and utility roles.

Upon arrival in Vietnam, the combined Australian-United States unit was renamed the Experimental Military Unit, colloquially known as the Emus. According to Aussie veterans, this was a unique unit and so they required a unique motto. They adopted “Get the bloody job done”.

The Emus often flew in close proximity to the ground and close to the scene of action, requiring crews to apply all of their training, personal ability and courage. The crews were supported throughout the campaign by their maintenance and support teams as well as members of the Fleet Air Arm based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra. During their four years in Vietnam, hundreds of flights supporting joint combat operations were flown. Unfortunately, Australian casualties included five killed, 10 seriously wounded and many more with other injuries. 

Attending the Anzac Day service in Fort Rucker was Commodore David Farthing, DSC, RAN (Ret’d) who was the Commanding Officer of the third RAN contingent.  He reflected: “the camaraderie and mateship has only grown over the last few years.”

Leading Seaman Aircrewman Leeann Mumby who attended the service in Fort Rucker as a RAN representative said: “It was an absolute honour to meet the Australian and US veterans that served in Vietnam.”

“Listening to their remarkable stories, that they described with comedic flair, was eye-opening.”

The three Royal Australian Navy personnel who attended this year’s commemorations are currently conducting MH-60R Seahawk operational conversion training at United States Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 40 in Jacksonville, Florida. This Squadron has been supporting the training of Royal Australian Navy MH-60R aircrew since 2013 and demonstrates Australia’s continued interoperability and alliance with the United States Navy. 

The three personnel were also members of 723 Squadron last year when the 50th anniversary of Helicopter Flight Vietnam was attended by more than 200 veterans and their families. 

723 Squadron now trains Army and Navy rotary wing aircrew using contemporary Eurocopter EC-135 aircraft and is operated as the Joint Helicopter School while also operating the Bell 429 helicopter.