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AL ASAD, Iraq -- Ernest Alejandro, an airframes technician with the sustainment tactical assessment team of Bell Aerospace Services, Inc., installs flight controls on an AH-1W Super Cobra on April 20. Alejandro, from Harlingen, Texas, is one of the 13 Marine veterans who volunteered to come to Iraq and help get the AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters back in the fight.


Helicopter mechanics stay faithful to the Corps, return to Iraq

22 Apr 2005 | Sgt. Juan Vara

Hundreds of Marines spend the better part of their days here in a hangar or out on the flightline repairing and maintaining aircraft to have them ready for the next mission.  Be it fighter jets or helicopters, for each hour the aircraft are in the air many hours of maintenance are required.

It’s not an easy task, since the mission of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) demands helicopters and jets to constantly be on the go.  Fortunately the Marines are not alone.

In addition to the thousands of Marines who deployed here earlier this year, several civilian mechanics came along in an effort to prolong the service of the aircraft here and get it back in action as fast as possible.

Bell Aerospace Services, Inc. deployed a team of 13 mechanics to assist repair and maintain the AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Hueys here.

The helicopters, commonly referred to as ‘skids,’ are sent back to the Naval Air Depot at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., for scheduled repairs depending on the date they entered service.

The BellAero representatives receive a helicopter approximately 30 days before it’s scheduled to be sent out and clean it from nose to tail, inspect it and fix whatever needs to be fixed to reduce turnaround time.

According to Ray Webb, site supervisor and Mayville, N.Y., native, the maintenance they perform here helps the NADEP personnel focus more on renewing the aircraft and less on fixing minor details.

“Our whole goal here is to get the aircraft back in the fight,” said Webb.  “The Marines need to have it.  Aircraft are essential.  If they don’t have aircraft they get ambushed.  It used to be that artillery was the king of battle, now air is the king of battle.”

All the team members are Marine veterans who have been working on these types of helicopters from five to 20 years.  Each one of them served in Iraq while in the Corps and their combined experience repairing and maintaining Hueys and Cobras adds up to more than one hundred years.

“That’s the big thing we’re bringing to the fight,” said Webb.  “These guys are not young.  Everybody’s been here, everybody knows what they’re doing and everybody has operated in a combat environment before.”

The mechanics come from Marine Corps Air Station, New River, N.C., and MCAS Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they work with other squadrons.  They’re not taking the jobs away from the Marine mechanics here; they’re assisting them with their expertise and extensive knowledge of the aircraft, as well as reducing their workload.

BellAero has everything from avionics technicians, mechanics and collateral duty inspectors here.  The many hours each helicopter is flown constantly increase the amount of wear and tear, requiring more repairs and maintenance be conducted.

“If you were to drive your car to the supermarket every day you would get some wear and tear,” said Webb.  “If you were to drive the Indy 500 every day, which is basically what these guys are doing, you would get more wear and tear.  The aircraft is wearing normally, but it’s a lot more because it’s being used a lot more.”

Along with getting the job done, one of the many things the Marine Corps focuses on is the importance of teamwork.  The men from BellAero, although they’re out of the Corps, jumped on the opportunity to come back to Iraq and work with Marines to help prolong the service of their helicopters.

They didn’t have orders to come here and be away from their families for a second or third time.  They are all volunteers.  Marine aviation plays an important role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and these mechanics contribute to it by each day putting their lives on the line just as they did when they wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

- For more information about the personnel reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at -

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