Cmdr. Kyle Johnson was relieved by Cmdr. Nick Ryan as commanding officer of the “Firehawks” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85 in a ceremony in the squadron’s hangar on Naval Base Coronado last month.
The squadron’s Sailors were joined by friends and family, as well as Sailors previously assigned to the “Firehawks” and the now-disestablished “Red Wolves” of HSC-84, congratulating Johnson on his successful tour and celebrating the beginning of Ryan’s time in command.
It will be the last planned for HSC-85, slated to disestablish this fall.
Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command Rear Adm. Michael Steffen spoke as the ceremony’s guest speaker.
Steffen himself had completed four combat deployments conducting special operations in Iraq with the “Firehawks” of then Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 5 “Firehawks” and “Redwolves” of then HCS-4 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It’s awesome to be back in this hangar amongst this amazing group of amazing warriors, and this place always holds such a special place in my heart.”-Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command Rear Adm. Michael Steffen.
“I would not have missed this for the world,” said Steffen. “It’s awesome to be back in this hangar amongst this amazing group of amazing warriors, and this place always holds such a special place in my heart. What helicopter squadron has such a storied history and lineage that dates all the way back to Vietnam?”
Last special helicopter squadron
Navy Reserve squadron HSC-85 is the Navy’s last special operations-dedicated helicopter squadron, tracing its origins to the Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) 3 Seawolves, established April 1, 1967.
Steffen spoke to some of HSC-85’s history and its operations throughout the squadrons’ lifetime, making note of the impact the squadron has had building relationships in the Pacific.
“This squadron has done many great things supporting the special operations mission and building relationships with people in places like the Philippines and Korea, which is hugely important in our competition with China,” he said.
Steffen then asked every current and former “Firehawk” and “Redwolf” to stand, resulting in cheers and applause from the audience.
Bottle of hot sauce
When the applause died down and the “Firehawks” and “Redwolves” returned to their seats, Steffen spoke about Johnson, with a few ribs about his “special sauce,” as Johnson is known to always carry a bottle of hot sauce, before taking a more serious note to speak to his character and leadership.
“Above all, he loves, loves, loves his family. He loves to fly, and it shows on every flight. He loves his squadron, which he’s fought for every day. He loves his Sailors; he loves to see you all succeed.”
-Steffen on Cmdr. Kyle Johnson
“One thing I appreciate about [Johnson] is how truly genuine he is,” said Steffen. “There are a few things I know are dear to his heart. Above all, he loves, loves, loves his family. He loves to fly, and it shows on every flight. He loves his squadron, which he’s fought for every day. He loves his Sailors; he loves to see you all succeed.”
Johnson then took the stage himself, echoing Steffen’s enthusiasm to see so many former “Firehawks” and “Redwolves” in the audience, and thanking his squadron for the honor of being their commanding officer before addressing Ryan.
“To my [executive officer (XO)], Commander Ryan, soon to be the last ‘Firehawk’ CO, you have been an amazing XO,” said Johnson. “I could think of no more intelligent, capable leader to finish this most worthy endeavor: flying, leading and deploying ‘Firehawks.’”
Assuming the duties
Johnson and Ryan then read their orders, followed by Ryan assuming the duties as HSC-85’s commanding officer.
Ryan then addressed Johnson.
“You kept us focused on what mattered, what we needed to be focused on to execute the challenging mission of safely escorting special operations warriors on the darkest nights and under the most-challenging circumstances,” said Ryan. “You’ve worked hard and made sacrifices to make that mission possible. Thank you for forming the squadron into the combat-ready unit that it’s been and for setting us up so well for this next chapter.”
Before the ceremony drew to a close, Ryan spoke to HSC-85, speaking to the squadron’s objectives going forward as they prepare for disestablishment.
“We have maintained a dozen machines as the most combat-ready helicopters in the United States Navy,” he said. “We have trained the most expeditionary, adaptively combat-ready Sailors in the Navy. We are the stewards of these assets, with this talent, and this experience, and now we’re charged with delivering it to the rest of the fleet.”
CNAFR mans, trains and equips the Naval Air Force Reserve in order to provide enduring operational support and strategic depth to Navy forces that win in combat.
Story by Chief Petty Officer Chelsea Milburn, Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve.