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Sgt. Adam T. Camargo rinses off a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter at Al Asad, Iraq, Sept. 23. Camargo is a crew chief with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. He is a native of Chicago.

Photo by Cpl. James B. Hoke

Marines, civilians fight dust, corrosion on oversized aircraft in Iraq

25 Sep 2006 | Cpl. James B. Hoke

Through the sandstorms and constant surges of wind, dust can become a serious problem for aircraft in Iraq. At the casual glance of the eye, it usually goes unnoticed, but after it has time to build up, it can cause severe difficulties.

The Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), combat this environmental-made pollution by spending several hours wiping, rinsing and washing their CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters at Al Asad.

"Aircraft ownership plays a lot in the role of cleaning aircraft, as they have to look clean and professional at all times," said Sgt. Adam T. Camargo, crew chief, HMH-463. "There are two main reasons besides professionalism that we clean our aircraft. One is corrosion prevention, which is getting rid of any corrosion building up on the aircraft. The second is for leaks and troubleshooting."

The Pegasus Marines have a system that they abide by to keep their aircraft clean. First, they have their daily inspections, which are performed by a collateral duty inspector who wipes off most of the aircraft with a rag as he searches for leaks or problems.

"Every day during the daily inspections, Marines wipe the aircraft down," said Camargo, a 28-year-old native of Chicago. "They inspect everything and wipe everything down. After a few minutes, if any leaks come back, they obviously have a problem.

"Every 14 days we do a fresh water rinse," the Lincoln Park High School graduate added. "Every 28 days we wash the aircraft, using a pressure washer."

With the aircraft being in constant use to support operations in Iraq, parts do come lose and break. If the aircraft were never cleaned, it would be near impossible for the Marines to narrow a problem down to its source.

"If the oil and grease is there and you never wiped it off or cleaned it, then you are never going to know if it's leaking statically or not," said Camargo. "You are never going to know where the leak is coming from or the point it is leaking from."

The effects of the weather can also cause more problems than making the aircraft look bad if cleanliness isn't maintained.

"Dust and dirt will get into the flight controls and contaminate the system, especially the hydraulic components," said Ed Bugay, team leader, L-3 Communications. "If the dirt accumulates, it will become corrosive. So we wash them as much as possible."

Although the aircraft belong to the Marines, civilian contractors have formed a working relationship with the Marines and sometimes help them wash the aircraft.

"We work together," concluded Bugay, a 55-year-old San Diego, native. "With other squadrons, we were separated from working with the Marines, but here, we work as a team. We ask them what they need done, and we help them do it."
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing