AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- A line of tracers and a corkscrewing missile flash up from the ground a thousand feet below a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, which immediately takes evasive action. Trailing bright sparkles of light emit from its aft sections, as a gout of flame spits from its side-door machine gun.
Saving the helicopter from enemy fire are the flying skills of its pilots, the deadly aim of its enlisted crew and an electronic countermeasure flare system.
The job of maintaining the M2 .50-caliber machine guns and flares that are instrumental in the helicopter's survival belongs to the ordnance division Marines with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"We are responsible for the (maintenance) of the electronic countermeasures system on the CH-46 Sea Knight," said Staff Sgt. Tiffany M. Guillory, ordnance division chief, HMM-268. "The birds go out and perform their missions day and night. Every morning and evening we go out to the flight line to remove, inventory and reload the (electronic countermeasure box)."
The ordnance Marines also go out twice a day to the helicopters to make sure the .50-caliber machine guns have enough ammunition.
Because the squadron flies nonstop missions day and night, the ordnance division is broken into two crews of three Marines each.
"Right now, I am on night crew, so when we come in we go through the .50-calibers that are up for their 28-day inspection or just weren't firing correctly," said Lance Cpl. Marco D. Ramos, an aviation ordnance technician, HMM-268. "During the inspection or repair process, we're looking for cracks and carbon or dirt buildup."
According to Ramos, a Hollister, Calif., native, the cracks are generally the result of components that are nearing the end of their lifetimes and begin to fall victim to the pounding of the massive weapon.
"We carry all the spare parts necessary to replace the broken pieces," said Ramos. "The good thing for us is the crew chiefs are so knowledgeable in regards to the weapon's functions that they can usually just hand us the broken part. The .50-caliber gets dirty. It breaks. That's bound to happen, but there is a reason why it has been around for so long and not really changed. It's simply a great gun system."
The machine guns need constant cleaning from the ordnance division after being operated in a desert environment. This is mainly because they are aboard helicopters which create small dust clouds every time they take off.
"We use (Cleaning Lubricant Preservative) to help remove the carbon buildup that comes from firing the weapon, but the CLP residue combines with the dust out here to create a never-ending battle to keep the weapon clean," Ramos said.
In addition to their duties of providing ammo and clean functional guns to the squadron, the ordnance Marines have been giving weapons classes to the Navy corpsmen assigned to the casualty evacuation mission flown by the Dragons.
"The corpsmen are studying for their Fleet Marine Force test and we are teaching them about the guns," said Ramos. "We explain how to dismantle the weapon, which pieces are prone to wear and tear, and how to put it back together. As a result, they know how to fire the weapon better if they have to take over for the gunners."
According to Ramos, whether they are teaching corpsman, cleaning .50-calibers or replacing flares, the ordnance division does it as one tight-knit team.