MARINE CORPS AIR GOUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Although maintenance Marines may not be the superstars of the flying community, having a squadron without them would be like a football offense with no offensive line.
The maintenance staff of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, participated in their first training event during Exercise Steel Knight here from Oct.16 to 27.
The “Vengeance” Marines kept three AH-1W “Super Cobra” and three UH-1N “Huey” helicopters in the air, loaded and ready during the 11-day exercise, which allowed HMLA-469 to provide needed support to ground units.
“We flew all of our helicopters every day during this exercise and that is unheard of,” said Maj. Bryant Budde, Vengeance’s assistant maintenance officer. “We are a new unit, but we have experienced staff noncommissioned officers and hard working junior Marines.”
Steel Knight, which integrated every aspect of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, is the first training exercise that Vengeance, activated in July, has attended. The squadron brought about 160 Marines, many of whom gained valuable experience that will aid them during future deployments.
“It was a little hectic settling in here, but once we got up and going it turned into a great training opportunity because everyone basically had to do more with less,” said Cpl. Amanda Shelton, an avionics technician for Vengeance.
Although the Marines responsible for the aircraft of HMLA-469 work hard aboard Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, the austere environment, increased operational tempo, extended work days and limited resources during this exercise offered many unique training opportunities.
“At home if a bird goes down we can get it into the hangar and take our time fixing it,” said Cpl. Chad Bost, an avionics technician for the squadron. “Out here, we have to trouble shoot it and fix it as fast as we can, just like we would if we were deployed.”
The Marines, normally work 12 hour days while home, but have worked closer to 15 hour days here, forcing them to work with less rest, added Bost.
Although the Marines focused on meeting the increased obligations, they did not lose sight of their main focus – safety. HMLA- 469 completed the live-fire exercise without any mishaps, which serves as a testament to the fledgling squadron’s professionalism.
“These Marines had a lot more live ordnance around them than normal, and they had to arm and de-arm larger amounts faster than normal,” said Staff Sgt. Schuyler Judice, a quality assurance representative for HMLA-469. “These Marines have done a phenomenal job.”
Vengeance performed 64 sorties, accumulating 111 and 1/2 hours. During Steel Knight the maintenance Marines made this possible by tracking, loading and arming about 14,000 7.62 rounds, 2,500 .50-caliber rounds, 3,000 20-millimeter rounds, 500 rockets, four Hellfire missiles and three Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missiles.
The maintenance staff of Vengeance, although new, could soon deploy as a major asset in the war against terror. Because of this, their time spent in the deserts of Camp Wilson served as vital proof that they can keep their pilots in the air, the bombs dropping and the bullets flying.