AL ASAD, Iraq -- Mile and miles of wires and advanced electronics are tucked into every available space of the $30 million AV-8B Harrier jets. One group of Marines is entrusted to make sure every component functions properly for flight.
The avionics shop Marines of Marine Attack Squadron 513, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have the tedious task of ensuring the Harriers, packed with high-tech equipment, can perform flawlessly for the pilots on every mission tasked.
"We are in charge of everything electrical on the aircraft, which is about 90-95 percent of the bird," said Sgt. William R. Baggett, AV-8 communications technician, VMA-513.
The avionics shop maintains and repairs the weapons, navigation and communications systems. They also do a lot of work with the other shops throughout the squadron, according to Baggett, a native of Cocoa Beach, Fla.
"There isn't a shop here that we don't work with," said Baggett. "With so many electronic systems on the aircraft, we have to keep a constant work relationship with all the other shops in the squadron."
Working on an aircraft that is so dependant upon its electronic devices means a lot of work for the Marines tasked with its' maintenance.
"I think most of the pilots and avionics Marines are very similar," said Capt. Carlton A. Wilson, Harrier pilot, VMA-513. "Most of us were probably the kids in high school who were always on the fringe of being geeky. You would probably find both groups playing sports, but behind that facade were kids who took calculus and always had the newest computer games."
Avionics top priority is maintaining the AN/AAQ-28 Litening Pod II.
"The Litening Pod is the most important piece of gear we are responsible for," said Baggett.
The pod is a wing-mounted device that allows pilots to see ground movement from 25,000 feet in the air in addition to other vital intelligence features.
Along with giving the pilots the ability to scout the terrain ahead of ground forces, the Litening Pod also grants pilots pinpoint accuracy with laser-guided munitions.
"With the pod, pilots can target a building and then place the crosshairs on any part of that building and the bombs will follow," said Baggett. "They can put them through a window if need be."
The pilots of VMA-513 appreciate the hard work the avionics shop does to keep them flying and fighting.
"The avionics Marines are instrumental to what makes the Harrier the best aircraft for close air support," said Wilson, a native of Austin, Texas. "If it wasn't for the systems they maintain, like our radios, the Lightening Pod, and our new mission computer software, H2.0, we would be ineffective in the current fight taking place on the ground. The requirements for precision munitions and information gathering in support of the Marines on the ground continue to make avionics and essential shop in the squadron."