Drawing: Cobra Drawing: Cobra

 Red Line

Operation Vigilant Resolve puts aviation mechs in a fix
Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200441085533
Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte
 Red Line

Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, 10 April 2004 — The weary Marine slowly lowered himself into his chair off to the side of the flightline in the hot, Iraqi sun.

Cpl. Robert T. Smith, aviation ordnance technician, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., has been up and about re-arming, checking and re-checking weapons systems on UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Cobras every time his squadron's pilots get tagged with a mission.

The 21-year-old's eyes started to close when he noticed four pilots running up the flightline, trying in vain to maintain speed and throw on vests and helmets at the same time.

Smith and his Marines jumped up and caught up to the pilots. They got tagged again.

This is the scene at any particular moment, night or day, at the flightline where HMLA-167 has made its temporary home. The maintenance Marines have been working almost non-stop for the past three days. The huge workload came after the squadron sent the Marines and a group of helicopters, to the area known as the Sunni Triangle, in support of Operation Vigilant Resolve.

The different maintenance sections have come to rely on each other heavily since the operation began in the first week of April, said Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Faga, flightline mechanic, HMLA-167.

"Teamwork is a very important aspect of life out here," the Corning, N.Y., native claimed. "Without all the shops, the (helicopters) couldn't fly. There's no way you could make that work."

There are four main sections that work on the light attack helicopters of the squadron. This includes airframes and hydraulics, flightline maintenance, avionics, and aviation ordnance.

The airframes and hydraulics section handles all the metal work and hydraulics on the helicopters, according to Cpl. L. Russell Williams, airframes and hydraulics mechanic, HMLA-167. His section is responsible for the looks and response of the helicopters.

"We work on the hydraulics that control the flight controls of the helicopter," he described. "We also rivet together the metal frame and bend it into shape."

As for the flightline portion of maintenance, flightline maintenance does most of the technical, "hard work" on the planes, detailed Faga.

"We do the hard maintenance type stuff as far as changing engines and transmissions," the 20-year-old explained. "It's very tedious and time consuming, especially when you have to pull engines. You have to do everything by the book."

The weather is creating small problems with the planes out here, said Faga.

"The weather is becoming a problem," he revealed. "It's hot here and it heats the systems, causing them to burn-up oil. Also, the sand will get in and wear down parts."

The flightline mechanics and aircrews perform numerous inspections to make sure the helicopters are in good working order before anything begins to break down or needs replacing, noted Faga.

Avionic technicians then begin working on the electrical, communications and navigation systems in the planes, said Lance Cpl. Jared R. Campbell, avionics technician, HMLA-167.

"We repair and troubleshoot problems associated with the wiring harness," he clarified. "There is encrypted communication equipment on the planes, and we'll switch out any components that aren't working properly."

The desert sand is also causing problems for the avionics Marines, but it is nothing they cannot work out, according to Campbell.

"The sand is getting in places and burning stuff up," he explained. "The blowers in the systems will get stopped up and the systems can't cool down. It's one of those things we're going to have to work through."

After everything is operating correctly, the aviation ordnance technicians start working on their piece of the light attack puzzle, Smith declared.

"We work on the armament systems," the Knoxville, Tenn., native simply stated. "If it fires, then that's what we work on."

"We reload everything, such as expended rockets and bullets," he continued. "If they pull the trigger and rounds don't go down range, we find out why."

Behind the scenes is an all too often under-appreciated part of the maintenance shop that helps all other sections accomplish their missions, claimed Cpl. Keith F. Diehl, expeditor, HMLA-167.

"We make an impact because if they don't have the parts to fly, the planes can't fly the missions," he explained. "If a plane breaks, the shop orders a part and I make sure the information is accurate. I then order, track and get the part to the shop."

The importance of each shop never outweighs the importance of another, because it's all about working together because they need each other, claimed Faga.

"Everyone knows the components on the aircraft," he stated. "We'll need an avionics guy to take a part off so we can take out a transmission. Everyone knows what's going on and what they need to do, so we kind of help each other out."

This teamwork has become more important to the Marines in recent days, he added.

In the past few days, the Marines have been repairing bullet holes, damaged engine components and wiring, and even a rotor-head and blades damaged by a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on a mission in Fallujah.

As the operational tempo increases in the Sunni Triangle, the maintenance Marines of HMLA-167 buckle down for long hours. There are no complaints forthcoming because of the necessity of their jobs, Campbell mentioned.

"We have to work together to get our planes up because the ground guys are depending on support from the helicopters," he concluded. "The way I look at it, we're protecting Marines and doing our part."

Story provided by USMC

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