FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. --
The U.S. Marine Corps uses combined arms teams of air and ground assets to outmaneuver and outgun opponents, but for every plane and helicopter that takes to the skies there’s a Marine clocking hours of maintenance behind the scenes to keep the birds flying.
Marines like the maintainers with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 Reinforced (VMM-166 (REIN)), the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s aviation combat element, have been hard at work day and night for ten days since Realistic Urban Training (RUT) Exercise began Aug. 31, 2015, at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, as part of a pre-deployment training package for their upcoming deployment to the Pacific and Central Command areas of responsibility.
“Maintenance is definitely continuous, but it’s something people don’t think about often,” said Cpl. Ryan Daniels, an avionics technician and Ponchatoula, Louisiana, native. “When a bird lands, we’re on it almost right away, checking up on cues the system reports, notes the pilots have taken and environmental considerations.”
According to Daniels, during continuous operations maintainers must be diligent with their planned and unplanned maintenance, especially in dry, dusty landscapes like Fort Hunter Liggett.
“Something that sounds simple like replacing an air filter becomes a big deal when you’re dealing with aircraft,” Daniels said. “If filters become clogged, aircraft systems may overheat and then you’re talking catastrophic failure of a bird full of your brothers, so this isn’t the place to cut corners.”
Not only is there no room for error in the maintenance, but safety is a big concern for Marines on the flight line as well.
“Safety is the most important element these guys need to know,” said Gunnery Sgt. Travis Borkowski, a crew chief and Manning, Iowa, native.
“They’re on a live flight line working four models of aircraft and have to keep their eyes and ears open.”
Carelessness can lead to serious injury for the Marines, especially when working at night or in low visibility.
“When a CH-53E helicopter comes in, for example, it kicks up a huge dust cloud,” Borkowski said. “A Marine could get hurt out on the line because he can’t see where the bird is going to touch down anymore.
"Suddenly we’re down a maintainer and that’s less people keeping aircraft running.”
With the maintainers of VMM-166 (REIN) on the job to keep the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit in top form, the Fighting 13th remains trained and equipped to fight in any clime and place.