In May of 1980, the Air Force's newly operational fleet of nine HH-53H Pave Low combat search and rescue helicopters was abruptly transferred to special operations forces due to a highlighted lack of dedicated, long-range, vertical lift platforms in the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt. Throughout the 1980s, the Pave Low fleet grew to 41 helicopters and expanded beyond the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field. This growth included the 21st and 31st Special Operations Squadrons in Europe and East Asia, as well as a dedicated training squadron, the 551st Special Operations Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. With the fleet expansion, the MH-53H evolved into the MH-53J and Pave Low development culminated with the fielding of the MH-53M in the late 1990s. The red-scarved men who flew the Pave Low, and the maintainers who cared for them, conducted countless missions of national importance. They executed important roles in the invasion of Panama in 1989; led the first missions into Iraq in 1991 and 2003; rescued a downed US pilot in Iraq in 1991; evacuated the American Embassy in Liberia in 1996; led the successful rescue missions for both US pilots shot down in Serbia in 1999; conducted the longest-ever helicopter rescues at sea in the North Atlantic in 1989 and 2002; flew daring raids in Afghanistan in 2001-2002; seized strategic oil pumping facilities in Iraq in 2003. Fitting the rich history of the beloved "Steel Horse," the MH-53 flew in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom for the final seven years of her heroic service.
This tail (68-0928) flew her final mission in Iraq against sworn enemies of the United States of America.