HM-15 Visits Naval Support Activity Panama City

The “Blackhawks” of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM-15) completed a two-week Airborne Mine Countermeasure (AMCM) training session in the Joint Gulf Test Range, located in the Gulf of Mexico off Naval Support Activity Panama City (NSA PC), Fla.

Part of a tight-knit community, and one of only two MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter squadrons in the U.S. Navy, HM-15 returned to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD), on board NSA PC, for its mine warfare expertise and favorable location. The squadron is homeported in Norfolk, Va., and the detachment is comprised of approximately 150 Sailors of various job ratings.

PSWC PCD supports MH-53E AMCM training missions with its direct access to the test range, and is also the Navy’s premier technical center for mine warfare and mine countermeasures.

“Because NSWC PCD supports AMCM and because they are located here in Panama City, in comparison with the logistics involved in Norfolk, it would be a much higher expense to train out of our homeport,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sammy Perrotta, officer in charge of the HM-15 Detachment.

By training in Panama City, Perrotta said he felt that they could train more efficiently and effectively.

“We have a maintenance detachment here for our aircraft, but if we get an error with our weapons system during training, we have the technical know-how to troubleshoot it right here in Panama City since this is where the systems were developed,” said Perrotta. “There are a lot of people here that help evaluate our gear to make sure it’s working properly, so it’s a mutually beneficial training exercise.”

Two of the weapon systems being employed on the MH-53E during the training exercises are the AN/ASQ-232 Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) and the AN/AQS-24 sonar system, said Perrotta.

“Before we can do something with the mine, we have to find it first, using the Q24 or as we affectionately call it, ‘the fish’,” said Perrotta. After locating the mine, the aircrewman on board the craft uses the AMNS to neutralize the mine with a shape charge, continued Perrotta.

On top of technical know-how, Panama City has favorable conditions for AMCM training.

“Our systems work more efficiently in Panama City for training purposes,” said Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Andrew J. Curtis, HM-15 Detachment leading petty officer. “It allows us to test more of our equipment and personnel in a controlled environment in comparison to Norfolk’s constantly changing environment. Panama City has a more stable and predictable weather pattern.”

It takes more than simply providing fuel and a place for the aircraft to land; there are also other logistics that go into it.

“We use the base’s facilities for our personnel, such as dining, lodging facilities, and they have been very supportive by providing vehicles to help us save on costs,” said Perrotta. “We couldn’t have kept the costs low without the base’s support, especially during this time of fiscal uncertainty when it is important to be frugal with our funding.”

HM-15 has a lot of training going on during this exercise, with little time to worry about logistical details.

“The support that we’ve gotten from every command here has been outstanding,” said Perrotta. “We could not have done our training as effectively without them.”

Perrotta said that he has been to Panama City several times already on similar exercises and looks forward to continuing his training.

“I can’t wait to come back,” said Perrotta. “It’s a small community and almost everyone knows each other, so it feels like family. The best part is, instead of having to go to the desert to practice, we get to go to Panama City.”

HM-14, the sister AMCM squadron, also homeported in Norfolk, Va., will be training at NSA PC for two weeks in November.

Press Release, November 05, 2013