SAN DIEGO — Airman Apprentice Andrew Wilhite, a native of Menomonie, was inspired to join the Navy to serve his country and travel.

Now, one year later, Wilhite serves with the Scorpions of Helicopter Maritime Squadron (HSM) 49, working with one of the Navy’s most advanced helicopters at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego.

“It’s pretty fun and busy,” said Wilhite. “There’s a lot of maintenance and a lot of work. You’re always doing something.”

Wilhite, a 2018 graduate of Menomonie High School, is an aviation electrician’s mate with HSM 49, a versatile squadron that’s capable of completing a number of important missions for the Navy with the MH-60R “Seahawk” helicopter.

“I have regular maintenance responsibilities and electrician work,” said Wilhite.

Wilhite credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned in Menomonie.

“I learned to be respectful to everyone and to find the fun in anything and always have a positive attitude,” said Wilhite.

HSM 49’s primary mission is to conduct sea control operations in open-ocean and coastal environments as an expeditionary unit. This includes hunting for submarines, searching for surface targets over the horizon and conducting search and rescue operations.

According to Navy officials, the MH-60R is the Navy’s new primary maritime dominance helicopter. Greatly enhanced over its predecessors, the MH-60R helicopter features a glass cockpit and significant mission system improvements, which give it unmatched capability as an airborne multi-mission naval platform.

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As the U.S. Navy’s next generation submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare helicopter, the MH-60R “Romeo” is the cornerstone of the Navy’s Helicopter Concept of Operations. Anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare are the MH-60R’s primary missions. Secondary missions include search and rescue, medical evacuation, vertical replenishment, naval surface fire support, communications relay, command, control, communications, command and control warfare and non-combat operations.

“It’s just something that not a lot of people get to do,” Wilhite said. “To be in front of the aricraft as it’s taking off gives you a lot of adrenaline. I’m always excited to come to work because every day I walk away with something new that I learned.”

Serving in the Navy means Wilhite is part of a world that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.

A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans. More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.

“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”

Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Wilhite is most proud of earning his Plane Captain qualification, which is the first qualification to earn as an airman.

“It’s the first big expectation of us,” Wilhite said. “It shows all the hard work I had to put into it. It’s a lot of information in a short amount of time.”

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Wilhite and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.

“Serving in the Navy means having the pride of serving my country and having the opportunity to meet other people and carry on the tradition of my family,” said Wilhite.

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