The Marine Corps has removed two commanding officers of helicopter squadrons from their posts citing a 'loss of confidence' in their ability to continue to lead. Lt. Col. Aaron Wells, right, was the commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 based in Japan. Lt. Col. Ned Biehl was the CO of HMM-262 out of California. (DVIDS)
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Caption: Lt. Col. Ned Biehl, right, was relieved as commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., by Lt. Gen. John Toolan, Jr, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force. Photo by Cpl. John Robbart III (Cpl. John Robbart III/U.S. Marines)
The commanding officers of two Marine Corps helicopter squadrons were removed from their jobs in recent weeks after senior leaders lost confidence in them, Marine Corps Times has learned.
Lt. Col. Aaron Wells was relieved April 18 as commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, which is based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan. Lt. Col. Ned Biehl was relieved March 12 as commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, which is based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.and currently deployed as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
It’s not immediately clear why either officer was dismissed. In each case, the decision was based on a “loss of confidence in his ability to continue to lead the squadron,” according to separate statements provided by Marine Corps public affairs officers in Japan and California.
Wells, who was relieved by Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, assumed command of HMM-262 in June of 2011. He has since been reassigned to a job on the 1st Marine Air Wing staff.
In a brief statement to Marine Corps Times, Wells praised the squadron’s personnel.
“After 22 months of command, my wife and I were deeply dismayed by my relief,” Wells wrote in his statement. “We find solace in the strength and perseverance of the Marines, sailors and families that have made our time with the squadron so meaningful. I remain extremely proud of the Flying Tigers and their diligence to support each assigned mission and each other with honor and courage over the past two years.”
Earlier this year, Maj. Gen. Christopher Owens, commanding general of 1st MAW, presented Wells with the 2011 Chief of Naval Aviation Operations Safety Award. The recipient is determined by evaluating the number of aircraft flight mishaps, relevance of unit safety programs, flight exposure and amount of deployment time, according to a Marine Corps news release.
“This safety award is a significant accomplishment,” Owens told the unit when presenting Wells with the award. “To have over 65,000 flight hours without a Class-A mishap is no easy feat, but you all did your job superbly.”
Before that, Wells accepted two other awards on behalf of the squadron. HMM-262 received the 2011 Edward C. Dyer award for most outstanding medium helicopter squadron in Marine aviation and the 2011 Pete Ross safety award for compiling the best safety record of any Marine aviation unit that year.
On Feb. 20, a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter assigned to HMM-262 crashed in Thailand during routine flight operations in support of Cobra Gold 2013, an annual multilateral exercise. Four Marines were injured.
HMM-262’s executive officer, Lt. Col. James Brown, is now serving as the squadron’s interim commander.
Biehl, who was relieved by Lt. Gen. John Toolan, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, assumed command of HMM-364 in December 2011. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Naval Academy graduate, Biehl is currently assigned to the Marine Aircraft Group 39 headquarters staff, said Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, a I MEF spokesman. An investigation connected to his relief was conducted and has been completed, he added.
Lt. Col. John Field has replaced Biehl as HMM-364’s commander. Field previously served as the senior watch officer in the Tactical Air Command Center with 3rd MAW (Forward) in Afghanistan.
News of Wells’ and Biehl’s removal emerged in the wake of another — that of Col. Kris Stillings, whom the commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, dismissed as commander of the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School, where three Marines died March 21 in an apparent murder-suicide. While discussing the decision to remove Stillings, Amos told Marine Corps Times on April 24 that in recent weeks two squadron commanders also had been relieved.
Amos has spent much of the last year addressing what he sees as a loss of accountability throughout the Marine Corps coupled with complacency among some leaders. He toured the service addressing his concerns, meeting first with officers and staff noncommissioned officers and then with all of his generals.
“We’re not out to set records for relieving commanders,” Amos said. But “... I’m deadly serious about it: You are responsible for what goes on inside your unit. Period.”