AL ASAD, Iraq -- While in Iraq, the Marine Corps has been taking advantage of their air superiority in the fight against terrorism.
The ability to use Marine aircraft for reconnaissance, support of ground troops, and attack has been invaluable for U.S. commanders and although pilots traditionally receive the lion's share of the glory for their heroic exploits, there are leathernecks behind the scenes who keep Marine aircraft flying high.
The Marines of Ground Support Equipment, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, don't rest until all the equipment needed to assist aircraft is in proper working condition.
"We fix and maintain all the gear that supports the aircraft," said collateral duty inspector, Staff Sgt. Brian M. Rioux, support equipment technician, MALS-16.
The amount of equipment needed to support an aircraft is vast and a lot of hard work goes into its repair. It is Roiux's job to make sure it's done right.
"This isn't an easy job," said the 26-year-old native of Lucie, Fl. "The training alone is over a year long. We have electricians, mechanics and cryogenics specialists who work with nitrogen and oxygen for the pilots (to breathe) while in the air."
Because of the magnitude of expertise the Marines of GSE possess, there have been numerous projects assigned to them; some even requiring they go above and beyond their usual duties.
"We normally only work on things like tow trackers, cranes, generators and weapons loaders," said Rioux, "but we've also had to work on trucks and other things that need to be (fixed) on base."
Located in the Western Iraqi Desert, where the harsh sand and extreme heat can take a heavy toll on equipment, the GSE Marines must be flexible and able to adjust to their surroundings in order to keep equipment in a ready status.
"Stuff is breaking down all the time," said Rioux. "Sand clogs filters and the heat breaks down mechanics, but we learn to adapt to our environment and so far we've been pretty successful."
The Marines who work in this job field have to stay focused and keep sharp to ensure that equipment that requires repair is fixed in a timely manner.
"Sometimes we have to fix stuff on demand," said 26 year-old, Rochester, Mich., native Sgt. George R. Singer, support equipment technician, MALS-16. "Something might break down right there on the flight line and we'll have to repair it."
Fortunately, the enthusiasm and commitment the ground support equipment Marines show toward their jobs is high; especially given the significance of their occupational specialty.
"I love being able to do what I was trained to do," said Singer.
"(Ground support equipment repair) is a pretty important job, added 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Jason M. Yost, support equipment technician, MALS-16, "Without working gear, the planes wouldn't even be able to fly."
According to Yost, the opportunity to serve in a real war zone has allowed him to gain more knowledge about his job than he ever could have in garrison.
"I've learned a lot more out here then I ever did back in the rear," said the Hollywood, Fla., native.
Even though their duties are challenging and they perform them with little or no fanfare, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Laura A. Clark, support equipment technician, MALS-16, and Tucson, Ariz., native is able to stay motivated and keep her morale up.
"I know that what we do out here is important," said Clark, "and that alone is enough to keep me going."