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Syracuse Veteran


For Drake Hamm, Corporal E4 Marine, the morning of March 29th, 1992, started out like many others. Drake was part of an avionics crew stationed in Saudi Arabia toward the end of Operation Desert Storm. The unit was heading toward South Africa on a carrier and running training drills aboard a CH 46E helicopter. During the exercises, Drake and his crew would hover in the helicopter above the carrier and Marines would slide down a rope thrown from the cabin of a helicopter and land safely on the ship.

The first rope drop went as planned, but after picking up a second group of Marines, an in-flight explosion occurred in one of the engines. Seated behind the pilot, he looked backward and saw a giant fireball corkscrewing through the cabin. The visor on his helmet blew off. He said the first thought that came to mind was, “Well. This is it. This is where my life ends.”

Drake joined the US Marine Corps at 18, seeking clarity, confidence, and direction. He chose the Marines because he heard they were the toughest.

After attending boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Drake took a specialized avionics training program in Millington, Tennessee. There, he learned to repair and maintain the electrical components of military aircraft. Drake recalls the grueling swimming qualification course during training, where recruits went through a simulated helicopter crash, requiring them to escape from the aircraft underwater, sometimes blindfolded.

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the U.S. spearheaded a 35-country coalition armed response. The efforts against Iraq came in two phases: Operation Desert Shield, which marked the military buildup from August 1990 to January 1991, and Operation Desert Storm, which began with the aerial bombing campaign against Iraq in January 1991. Drake’s squadron was called to go back to Kuwait near the end of Desert Storm in 1992.

Drake’s squadron, HMM-166 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, had assisted in military operations around the world, helping to clean up after volcano eruptions and earthquakes. In Kuwait, they helped clear the aftermath of the fighting where missiles had hit, burned ground, and the bodies of Iraqi soldiers lined up near bunkers. These experiences caused him to grow up quickly and strengthened him in many ways, but nothing changed his perspective like the helicopter crash.

Syracuse Veteran

As the helicopter sank toward the water, the Marines who had been seated in the cabin pushed up behind Drake to get close to the exit windows. Drake’s training kicked in as the helicopter hit the water and began to sink. He removed his gunner’s belt and moved toward the window, but his air bottle, tethered to his flight suit with a nylon cord, was stuck on something inside the aircraft. He worked quickly to free himself, pulled one of the nearby Marines with him, pushed through the window, and swam up to the surface of the ocean.

All-in-all, 14 out of the crew of 18 on the flight survived. Drake somehow suffered only minor burns to the inside of his nose, his neck, and in his right armpit. Many of the other survivors were sent to a burn center in Germany. The Pilot, two marines, and the Rope Master perished in the crash.

The crash happened at the end of March. By the first of May, Drake was back at work on helicopters. He finished his deployment in July of 1992 and was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1993.

Today, Drake is an Investigator for the Davis County Attorney’s office and a task force officer on the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force. He claims his time in the military gave him courage that has carried him through his career in law enforcement.

Thank you, Drake Hamm, for your military service, your bravery, and the ways you continue to serve in your career.

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