Monday, December 8, 2008

HMH-466 maintains, fights in Afghanistan.

Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – CH-53E Super Stallions are the most widely used aircraft in a Marine aircraft wing. They are used for everything from re-supply to troop transport, but none it would be possible without the Marines who maintain them on a day-to-day basis.

Crew chiefs, mechanics and avionics Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan’s air combat element have worked around the clock to ensure every Super Stallion in their arsenal is ready for whatever mission they may have to perform.

“The Super Stallion is a critical piece to accomplishing the Special Purpose MAGTF’s mission,” said Maj. Roderick Montgomery, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466’s executive officer. “CH-53Es take more maintenance per flight hour than any other aircraft. Our ability to safely complete the required mission is entirely dependent on the maintainers.”

Though each job differs greatly from the other, every man and woman working on the aircraft is essential to a Sea Stallion’s success and longevity.

Crew chiefs are responsible for the daily maintenance and inspection of the aircraft. In addition to their maintenance duties, crew chiefs oversee all loading and unloading of equipment, supplies and personnel as well as several other duties while the aircraft is in flight.

“Crew chiefs are required to be plane captains,” said Sgt. Chase M. Kovarick, a CH-53E crew chief with the unit. “We are responsible for troubleshooting any issues that happen in flight and we have to be qualified to perform a variety of missions from conducting night flights to (firing the M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun.) There really is a lot that goes into it.”

Though the chiefs are essential to the mission, both in the air and on the ground, they are assisted by mechanics and avionics technicians in more ways than expected.

On the ground, mechanics maintain the aircraft’s rotor, propulsion, fuel, flight control and transmission systems. Avionics technicians handle the aircraft’s electronic systems, such as communication, navigation and flight systems. But in the air, those Marines are crucial members of the flight crew.

“Avionics and mechanics are aerial observers when we’re in the air,” said Cpl. Joe Farley, an avionics technician with the unit. “We man the left (M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun) and assist the crew chiefs with any issues that come up in flight. We’re each important individually, but it takes all of us to make sure the birds fly.”

Each Marine puts anywhere from 60 – 98 hours a week into preparing, flying and maintaining their aircraft, hard work that has paid off.

According to Cpl. Brandon Genfen, a CH-53E mechanic, HMH-466 has never had a mishap that resulted in the loss of life or more than $80,000 in repairs.

But at end of their shifts, which may last 12 hours or longer, most of the Marines take pride in something entirely different.

“It feels great knowing we keep the Marines on the ground safe,” said Lance Cpl. Jenny Watkins. “There are so many things that could hurt them on the ground, but in the air we keep them safe. That feels great.”

SPMAGTF-A’s mission is to conduct counterinsurgency operations in addition to training and mentoring the Afghanistan National Police.

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