Avionics Marines give Harriers 'pulse'

12 Dec 2006 | Cpl. James B. Hoke

The electronics and wiring inside the Marine Corps' AV-8B Harrier is a little more complicated than your average household light switch, and being so, the aircraft requires a group of professional Marines, specifically trained to manage the avionics in the jet, to make it operate to its fullest potential.

The avionics Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 211, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are responsible for all of the electrical systems in the Harriers flying at Al Asad, Iraq.

"Our primary mission is to basically have all of the aircraft up and flying," said Cpl. John M. Ortega, avionics technician, VMA-211. "The grunts depend on our air support, so our main mission is to have fully mission-capable aircraft at all times."

The Marines with the avionics section work on nearly all parts of the aircraft, as the wiring is run throughout the plane. From electronics and communications to navigations and radar, these Marines spend 12 hours each day accomplishing their mission so that others can accomplish theirs.

"We give the aircraft a pulse," said Sgt. Ronald A. Rorie, avionics technician supervisor, VMA-211. "We have something to do with every shop, as our wiring goes through everything. We have to make sure the right amount of voltage is going everywhere, too, so that everything works properly."

Although the Harrier is a small jet to work on, with it being an old aircraft, there are a few challenges the Marines must deal with.

"As far as every other aircraft, the Harriers are the hardest to work on because they have so much power and vibration, which can pull some of the wiring loose," said Ortega, a 26-year-old native of Pueblo, Colo. "The (F/A-18) Hornets have a little box that tells you what's wrong with the aircraft, if there is a problem. The Harrier doesn't have that. If there is something that goes wrong with it, you can spend hours trying to find the problem."

"You learn something new every day," added the graduate of Primero High School, who is currently three months into his second tour with the squadron in Iraq. "It doesn't matter if you've worked on this aircraft for 30 years, you are still learning. You will never be able to know everything about it."

Other than the aircraft being old, the current Harriers VMA-211 is using have been in the desert for more than nine months, and weather does take its toll, according to Rorie, a 25-year-old native of Akron, Ohio.

However, the Marines stay attuned to their jobs and fix any problems that arise to keep operations flowing.

"Our job means a lot more out here," said Rorie, a graduate of Garfield High School, who is also serving his second tour in Iraq with VMA-211. "We are doing our part. It may not be as hard as other jobs, but either way, we all have a part that has to be done in the cycle of things out here."

"Here, our jets are flying for a reason (other than training)," said Sgt. Curtis D. Hudson, avionics work center supervisor, VMA-311, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). "You get a better sense of pride in that."

While the Marines are ensuring their aircraft remain operational, they also focus on the morale and troop welfare of their co-workers.

"We look after our Marines to make sure they are being taken care of," Rorie concluded. "If you look after them, they will look after you, and they will take care of the jets, which will take care of the mission. It all works in one big circle."

Disclaimer -- Photos associated with this article can be found at the following links:

1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006121324731
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612132506
3 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006121325115
4 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612132538