AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marines on the ground in Iraq must rely on the aide of UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Super Cobras to get them out of tough situations. A considerable factor in aiding ground troops is the tireless efforts of the phase maintenance crew who keep the helicopters mission capable.
Much like their counterparts in other squadrons, the phase maintenance section with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, continuously maintains the squadron's aircraft to ensure the safety of the aircrew as well as the troops on the ground needing air support.
"The Gunfighter phase crew is our silent weapon," said Capt. Derek M. Crousore, AH-1W Super Cobra pilot, HMLA-369. "These Marines work (24 hours a day, seven days a week) disassembling, inspecting, repairing, and reassembling both Cobras and Hueys with exacting efficiency and meticulous attention to detail."
The phase maintenance section conducts inspections on their squadron's helicopters every 200 flight hours to look for cracks in the airframes and change out parts such as engines and transmissions.
"Out here, the helicopters are not flying like they would in Southern California," said Cpl. Carlton Stacy III, helicopter mechanic and flightline collateral duty inspector, and Ticonderoga, N.Y., native. "They are flying a lot harder because of the combat environment and carrying a full combat load."
According to Sgt. Daniel Pittman, helicopter mechanic and phase maintenance NCOIC, what sets the Gunfighters apart from other squadrons' phase shops is how they have maintained their squadron's prestige.
"Dedication, the desire to live up to our past reputation and build an even stronger future reputation fuels our shop," said the Boston, Mass., native.
In order to have the specific skills necessary to fix the helicopters, the Marines in the phase shop are chosen from three different sections within the squadron.
The airframes mechanics are selected because they work on the flight control systems and flight surfaces. Flightline mechanics recover the aircraft; conduct safe for flight inspections and launch the aircraft. They also work on the engines and secondary systems. The avionics Marines work on all of the communication and navigation equipment.
These are some of the hardest working Marines in the squadron," said Staff Sgt. Erick E. Morales, phase maintenance SNCOIC and Torrence, Calif., native. "They have accomplished in seven months what it would normally take a squadron a year on deployment."
The Marines have completed 45 phase maintenance inspections on the Gunfighters' helicopters since Sept. 30, 2005.
Stacy commented, the best thing about taking helicopters apart is that everybody knows when it comes out of phase maintenance, it's as if it were brand new.
When a pilot takes the helicopter out for a test flight and everything works properly, all the energy and effort put into the maintenance pays off.
"They are the quiet professionals who go about their business with a keen sense of the 'big picture'," said Crousore, a Warsaw, Ind., native. "Their performance has been outstanding." By doing their job well, these Marines give the grunts in Ramadi, Fallujah, Kharma and Zaidon a quality product capable of defeating the enemy.