AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Helicopters break down, especially ones subjected to the rigors of combat missions like those flying out of Al Taqaddum, Iraq.
Always ready to apply their unique repair abilities to the helicopters are the Marines with Detachment A, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, who provide aviation logistics support day and night to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369.
The detachment of more than 40 Marines is broken down into different sections, each focusing on a specific piece of aviation logistics support.
Working out of scattered wooden shacks, cargo containers and a dirt covered hangar, the detachment's Marines manufacture and repair the hundreds of parts making up CH-46 Sea Knights, UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Super Cobras.
"We have 24 Marines working in our maintenance section," said Gunnery Sgt. Sean P. Bosh, Det. A staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "Their job is repairing components on all three aircraft types so the work varies, especially with three different engine types. They troubleshoot the aircraft's mechanics, always attempting to save parts through our extensive repair ability before pulling them and getting a replacement."
According to Bosh, three Marines in the electronic countermeasures section provide limited repair ability for the protective systems, but also fill the important role of escorts for the sensitive equipment when it is transported to a higher level facility for repair.
The smallest detachment section, manned by Cpl. Clifford A. Davies, is the battery section.
"I handle all the battery support for the squadrons and control hazardous materials for the detachment," said Davies, an avionics technician and Seattle, native.
According to Bosh, six Marines split evenly across three small sections are perhaps the busiest of all the Det. A personnel.
"Two Marines in the van maintenance section are constantly busy with maintaining the generators across the squadrons and the ones at the airfield here," said Bosh, a Jacksonville, Fla., native. "Our two metalworkers are integral to the helicopter's airframes. Their work saves the squadron a lot of time and money by keeping the birds up and flying."
The busy schedule of the helicopter airframe mechanics, also known as metalworkers, and van maintainers is mirrored by two hydraulic technicians, who unceasingly inspect hydraulic parts aboard the helicopters for cracks and defects.
"If problems are found, then we have the ability to manufacture and repair the necessary parts to keep the aircraft up," stated Cpl. Jeffery M. Wells, a hydraulic mechanic and Powder Springs, Ga., native. "W can manufacture low and medium pressure lines, but the ones we can't fix are sent up to MALS-16 at Al Asad."
The Det. A supply Marines provide the last link in the aviation logistics chain, supplying all the other sections and squadrons with the parts that they need.
Working nonstop, day and night, forces the Marines to learn new skills and become accustomed to intermittent sleep hours.
"I am a hydraulic mechanic, but today I'm learning how to bend steel in the weld shop," said Wells. You have to make yourself universal down here."
Despite being detached from their squadron and living and working under austere conditions, the aviation logistics support Marines here expressed their affinity for their current role.
"It could be two in the morning when I get awakened to weld something," said Cpl. Jensen J. Miller, an airframes mechanic and Onawa, Iowa, native. "Even with that, I love it down here. You get to see your work go up in the air right in front of you, knowing that the helicopters are going out to help the Marines in the field, be it casualty evacuation or air support."