AL ASAD, Iraq -- Under the direction of a lone Marine standing in its path, a deafening EA-6B Prowler taxis to a stop. With their electronic warfare mission accomplished, the flight crew turns responsibility for the aircraft over to the powerline division Marines with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Recovering and launching the Death Jesters' aircraft is not the only task the 14 powerline Marines are responsible for.
"We do preflight and postflight inspections, engine maintenance, external and internal fuel system maintenance, as well as acting as the plane captains for the aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Iyassai M. Young, division chief. "Our squadron combines the ground support equipment and power plant branches that are normally separate in other aviation units."
With the variety of jobs they must accomplish, the powerline Marines rely on their training to get through the 12-hour work shifts mistake-free.
"We came out here with six experienced, qualified Marines," said Young, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. "If you don't hold a qualification for a job, then you can't do it without supervision. Fortunately, the junior Marines that didn't really know anything when we first got out here worked hard, learned quickly, and became qualified plane captains, which allows them to work independently."
One of the junior Marines who received training here was Lance Cpl. Sedric L. Simon, a power plants mechanic and recently qualified plane captain.
"I came over here with a shop that had just as many new guys as experienced ones. Our senior marines had to step it up and make sure we got all the training we needed to make this a smooth deployment," said Simon, a West Palm Beach, Fla., native. "I feel that the training out here went very well, especially since no matter how hard you train or work back home it doesn't prepare you for the real thing. You must be at your best at all times, so when you do get training or advice on anything you'd better run with it."
The ability to work without supervision is a unique characteristic of the qualified plane captains in the powerline division.
"This is the only place you will find junior Marines responsible for an entire aircraft," said Young.
One of the Marines in charge of the transformation of the junior Marines was Cpl. Christopher D. Bland, a plane captain who is on his third deployment to OIF.
"I think this is the hardest job in the squadron maintenance wise, because we have so many jobs to do," said Bland, a Jacksonville, Fla., native. "This is the best powerline shop yet, the new guys are really smart, better than we (experienced Marines) are."
Part of the division's success is due to the Marine's enthusiasm for their duties, despite the long hours and scorching temperatures on their flight line workspace, and the guidance of their noncommissioned officers.
"The NCOs are puppet masters. They keep the Marines rotating through the maintenance work, keep them hydrated and make sure they get time off, if only for half a day, because these Marines will work till they drop," said Young. "All these Marines believe they must carry the load. Lance Cpl. Simon, for example, created an entire system for tracking the aircraft fuel systems, something he didn't know before he came out here."
"The reason I have devoted so much time to the fuel system is because it's a challenge," said Simon. "I am most interested in what others may say is hard to do. We fly at least five times more here than we did back in the States so you can see the added strain that we have put on the fuel system as well as the drop tanks. Both are very independent systems that need a little more attention. Being that there are so many drop tanks, I had to work pretty hard just to get them all accounted for and find out their discrepancies."
The efficient use of the personnel by their leaders is crucial to the division's ability to accomplish their mission of keeping the aircraft ready to fly.
"The engines on the EA-6B Prowler can be a major pain to replace," said Young. "It is a tedious process, but we can switch one out in (12 hours). As we're doing engines, we are still launching and recovering planes."
Months into their deployment and despite daily triple-digit temperatures, the powerline division continues to launch well maintained Prowlers into the Iraqi sky.
"Since I have been out here we have had easy days and very busy days, so I came up with something that I say to motivate myself and my peers. 'If you practice hard when it's easy, when it actually gets hard it will be just like practice,'" said Simon.