AL ASAD, Iraq -- Behind the scenes, film-industry carpenters toil in obscurity to create ornate movie sets, and their only recognition is a single line in the film credits, shown long after the crowds have left.
A group of Marine mechanics and technicians at Al Asad, Iraq, share the carpenters' obscurity, as they spend long hours in the shadows of the Marine Corps' high-performance star, the F/A-18 Hornet. Both groups toil in the background while the likes of Tom Hanks and the F/A-18 Hornet receive rave reviews for their onscreen and battlefield performances.
Those Marines fill the maintenance sections of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), and are responsible for making sure the high-performance Hornets under their care are mission capable day and night.
Now, in their third month at Iraq, the Bats' maintainers are successfully launching about a dozen fully capable aircraft each day. Their jobs vary, and on any given day, they can be seen crawling under and over a Hornet, opening panels and tightening bolts.
In the morning, a Hornet may appear inoperable -- wires hanging out and parts missing -- but 12 hours later, the same F/A-18 can be seen roaring down the runway, climbing into the night sky on a mission to support ground operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.
"The (F/A-18 Hornets) have off and on maintenance problems, but now that the weather is cooling off, they should begin calming down and we should have less to work on," said Cpl. Tommy G. Torres, an F/A-18 aircraft electrical systems technician.
Although most of their work is performed inside concrete bunkers or on stationary aircraft, the Bats' maintenance Marines are standing by for every Hornet launch, prepared to make last-minute repairs or adjustments just before the aircraft's scheduled flight.
"The majority of our work is done when the jet is down for a few hours between flights," said Sgt. Aaron M. Ellis, the Bats' communication, navigation, weapon systems shop supervisor and Spokane, Wash., native.
"Whenever the birds are launching, we're out there to fix any problems," said Torres, a Waco, Texas, native. "Sometimes all it takes to get a bird airborne is changing a (part)."
Despite playing the part of a caretaker to multimillion dollar aircraft that keep them busy 12 hours a day, turning wrenches or running diagnostic checks, the Marines believe in the operational capabilities of the machines they're responsible for.
"So far, we've changed out five engines, one as a result of foreign object damage, but the rest are from wear and tear," said Gunnery Sgt. Patrick L. Tiry, staff noncommissioned office-in-charge for the Bats' Powerline Division and an Eau Claire, Wis., native. "It's nobody's fault that they need to be replaced. Things vibrate and go bad."
So, in the shadows and through the night, like their flying namesake, the Bats' maintainers quietly go about their work, as the sounds of their efforts are drowned out by the busy aircraft that they keep operational.