MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- Airframe Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadrons (HMH) 462 and 465 continually provide maintenance to their respective squadron’s CH-53E Super Stallions, both around the world while deployed and aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
These Marines train extensively to ensure that these load-carrying helicopters are maintained and equipped for performance of a variety of missions for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the Marine Corps.
Before a helicopter airframe mechanic can even touch an aircraft, he or she attends schooling aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., where students learn the very basics of their occupational specialties. Then, they travel to Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., where students continue their education on the specific aircraft that they will maintain in the Fleet Marine Force.
Courses can last six months or longer total, before Marines go to their first duty station to begin learning and perfecting their trade.
“It’s very important that we know how to do our job properly,” said Lance Cpl. Luke Bringgold, an airframe mechanic with HMH-462 and a Savage, Minn., native. “If a hydraulic system goes down, like the in the blades, and we don’t catch it, people could get hurt or the aircraft can’t be flown, [which] hurts our readiness.”
The number of flight-capable aircraft a squadron has available at a given time determines readiness. Using this as the ultimate goal, maintenance control tells the maintainers which aircraft needs fixed for flight.
The desk sergeant acts as a middleman between maintenance control and the airframes mechanics. His responsibilities include delegating tasks, ordering parts and ensuring the Marines know what aircraft to fix and how to fix it.
“We have around 15 to 20 Marines a shift, and I make sure that they are working on the right aircraft the right way,” said Sgt. Kevin McVey, desk sergeant and collateral duty inspector with HMH-465, and a Belleville, Mich., native. “I keep the log books on what gets accomplished throughout the day and ensure parts are ordered correctly. Then, if something happens that we need to inform maintenance control of, the workers will come to me and I will go to maintenance control where they give me further guidance as to what can be done.”
After Marines like Bringgold and his peers finish a job, they have their work inspected by a collateral duty inspector. The inspector’s job to train the Marines and ensure the work is done properly, because lives could depend on it.
“I have the final say on whether an aircraft is safe to fly or not,” said Sgt. Michael Wahl, airframe collateral duty inspector and quality assurance representative with HMH-462, and a Bismarck, N.D., native.
Wahl, who deployed to Afghanistan twice before with Super Stallions, explained that aircraft like this provided supplies to forward operating bases, as well as transport for troops in and out of combat zones. With three GAU-21 .50 caliber machine guns mounted to both side doors and one in the rear of the aircraft, it also made for a formidable opponent when providing aid to Marines in a firefight.
“Without our aircraft, FOBs wouldn’t have gotten food, water or mail; not to mention troops wouldn’t have gotten to where they need to go,” explained Wahl. “The MV-22B Osprey could do it, but they couldn’t take the amount of supplies, troops or fire power that the Super Stallion could. Our aircraft is the work horse of the Marine Corps.”
According to Bringgold, without properly maintained Super Stallions for deployed Marines to rely on, lives could very well be in danger. With these maintainers constantly work to perfect their mechanical skills to ensure their squadrons’ Super Stallions are ready to ride herd on the Marine Corps’ missions.