Photo Information

Lance Cpl. John A. Portell (left), Sgt. Alex C. Applegate (center), and Cpl. Joseph G. Johnson attach a guidance system to a GBU-12 bomb at Al Asad, Iraq, Nov. 3. The three aviation ordnance systems technicians with the munitions section of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are responsible for the storage, maintenance and delivery of Marine aviation ordnance in Western Iraq. Portell is a Kirtland, N.M., native. Applegate is a San Diego, native. Johnson is an Eastpointe, Mich., native.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

MALS-16 munitions section provides Marine aviation with firepower

21 Nov 2006 | Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

If the job requires high explosives delivered from the air with devastating force, then Marine aviators in Iraq have a sure-thing option … Place an order with the Marines who provide such ordnance.

The Marines assigned to the munitions section of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are responsible for the storage, maintenance and delivery of ordnance in Iraq.

“We store, build and deliver all weapon types for fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as re-supply the squadrons at Al Asad,” said Sgt. Alex C. Applegate, an aviation ordnance systems technician, and San Diego, native.

“Not only do we ship out ammunition to the squadrons here and the forward operating bases, the Marines also receive ammunition from the United States and receive damaged ammunition from the other forward operating bases in Iraq,” said Gunnery Sgt. Larry Ortiz, munitions chief, MALS-16.

In addition to the acceptance of new and damaged ordnance, the munitions section keeps track of potential manufacturing issues involving the ordnance.

“Sometimes we get notices of reclassification which means something is wrong with the ammunition,” said Ortiz. “In that case, we will send it back to the manufacturer because it is under warrantee.”

Despite the warrantees covering the ammunition and a careful storage process, extra precautions must be taken by the munitions Marines as they maintain the high-explosive ordnance stored at their facility.

“Out here, because of the weather and temperature, to make sure things don’t go off, we do more electronic continuity checks on the ammunition than we would do in the rear,” said Ortiz.

According to Ortiz, the munitions section not only stores, but prepares multiple types and sizes of rockets, guided missiles and precision-guided bombs inside the ammunition supply point at Al Asad.

Upon getting a request for ammunition, a build team of four to six Marines goes to the ammunition storage area and begins the process of assembling massive bombs or slender missiles.

“An ammunition build team is comprised of at least one quality assurance safety observer, a team leader and two team members,” said Ortiz, a Phoenix, native.

During an ammunition build, the team leader and two members perform all of the heavy lifting and wrench turning, transforming a simple gravity bomb into a precision weapon by attaching a guidance system to it.

The safety observer looks over the team’s shoulders to ensure the guidance system is attached to the bomb casing properly, making a written record of the build as it progresses.

“I make sure all the torque values, guidance fins and fuse settings are correct,” said Johnson, an aviation ordnance systems technician, and Eastpointe, Mich., native. “Sometimes, if they don’t work properly, the bomb can come apart in flight or can be a dud.”

“Ultimately, the safety observer's job is to make sure the bomb is built correctly and everyone stays safe,” added Applegate.

For the munitions Marines, their seven-month deployment of building and storing ammunition in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has afforded them an opportunity they never would have received in the United States.

For more than three months at Al Asad, the munitions Marines have delivered ready-to-drop or fire bombs and missiles to Marine aircraft, and upon their return home, they will take with them a wealth of knowledge on combat munitions to the Marines there.

“We’re all from different squadrons, MALS-16, MALS-11, MALS-26, MALS-39, and some of us had never worked with rotary-wing ordnance or fixed-wing ordnance,” said Applegate. “This is good cross training and has given us the opportunity to work on ordnance we normally wouldn’t.”

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