Local Navy helicopter pilot meets son for first time after nearly 9-month deployment

A Jacksonville-based helicopter squadron returned Sunday from a nearly nine-month deployment, and one of the pilots had an unforgettable moment.

Aircrewman Toby Martinez met his infant son for the first time. The baby was born to Martinez and Megan Catlin three weeks after Martinez deployed from Naval Air Station Jacksonville last year with the “Spartans” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70.

The “Spartans,” who were deployed for nearly nine months with Carrier Strike Group 12, returned Sunday to reunite with their families.

HSM-70 deployed on May 2, 2023, with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, embarked aboard the Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Additionally, two Combat Elements consisting of 30 Sailors, six pilots, and two helicopters deployed aboard USS Normandy (CG 60) and USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116).

During the deployment, the “Spartans” flew over 6,400 flight hours, expended 72,492 rounds of ammunition, dropped 645 sonobuoys, and deployed and tracked nine MK-39 expendable mobile anti-submarine warfare training targets.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, the squadron, along with CSG-12, provided critical support through contingency operations in the Eastern Mediterranean to prevent any escalation of hostilities in the region.

“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of the men and women of Sparta,” said Cmdr. Brian Crosby, HSM-70 commanding officer. “Their dedication to the mission and each other is absolutely awe-inspiring. They were challenged each day and rose to the challenge at every opportunity. We are excited to finally take some hard-earned time to relax and recharge with our families.”

HSM-70′s efforts earned them the coveted “Battle E” award for sustained proficiency and readiness in an operational environment.

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