AL ASAD, Iraq -- Climbing on top of and inspecting and repairing one of the Marine Corps oldest helicopters could be considered a repetitive and unending job, unless you were a maintainer.
Maintenance Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, spend countless hours every day going over the CH-53D Sea Stallions of the squadron to make sure they are worthy to fly.
They do it with an exacting attention to detail that can bypass zero mistakes, as they hold the lives of their fellow Marines in the palm of their hands and have no room for error.
"The purpose of the maintainers is to return aircraft to an air-worthy condition so that we can train aircrew, pilots and support the missions that we are given," said Staff Sgt. Frank E. Dugger, maintenance control chief, HMH-463. "The whole mission of why we are here on the maintenance side is to get the aircraft up and available. We have to have availability so that if we are tasked with a mission, we can meet it."
The squadron's aircraft have been around for close to 40 years, according to Capt. Shayne M. Frey, pilot training officer, HMH-463.
"They aren't as high speed as some of the newer planes," said Frey, a Lancaster, Pa., native. "We have a lot of daily and hourly inspections on them. The maintainers are out there in 120 degrees, all day long, working on these aircraft. Not only do they have to fix them when we break them, but they have to upkeep them, too."
Facing some of the harshest conditions considered for the aircraft, the maintainers are confronted with problems left and right with keeping the aircraft safely operable in Iraq's torrid environment.
"We trained for this, but it's not the same out here," said Sgt. Yurian D. Uribe, collateral duty inspector, HMH-463. "The planes are not used to it. We had to get used to everyday rinsing the planes off and ragging them down. If you didn't rinse them down, the sand would accumulate and get into the seals and cause corrosion."
"You always want a clean aircraft," said Lance Cpl. Dennis G. Daniels, flight line mechanic, HMH-463. "If it's not clean, you can't see if anything is wrong with it. If there is a quarter inch of dirt or grease on it, how can you inspect it?"
Having flown more than 2,000 hours since they landed in Iraq, the squadron has hauled more than 1.2 million pounds of cargo and 13,000 personnel. According to Frey, a 33-year-old graduate of Pennsylvania State University, all of the milestones wouldn't have been possible without the maintainers.
"To put it into perspective, those guys are out here for seven months and they don't really get a day off," said Frey. "They don't complain. They just do it and make it happen. They are a great group of guys -- a true brotherhood. Their work is extremely appreciated from the pilot side of the house. They are the bread and butter of what we do. We break 'em; they fix 'em."
"The maintainers work is outstanding in the fact that we are able to work to have the best numbers, and we are virtually out flying every unit on base," said Dugger, a Navarre Beach, Fla., native. "We are flying three times our normal hours while decreasing the maintenance hours required for flight hours. Just overall, from start to end, our maintenance department has set the standard."
According to Dugger, the Marines with the maintenance department has never failed to amaze him with their commitment to duty.
"The other night, we had a raid in four hours with no aircraft up," said Dugger. "Within two and a half hours, we had six aircraft up; three for the mission and three for backup. When given a task, they never fail to accomplish it. No matter what it takes. From the lower levels to the top, the personal sacrifice and doing whatever it is that they have to do to accomplish their mission is amazing."
"The maintainers are the Heart of the Squadron," said Uribe, a White Plains, N.Y., native. "We are like the grunts would be out knocking out the mission. Fixing these aircraft is our war and these are our battles. We are out here day in and day out, 24 hours a day between both shifts. Without us, there wouldn't be a squadron no matter how many planes you had."