AL ASAD, Iraq -- On a cool, crisp evening in late January, two pilots, a crew chief and an aerial observer boarded a gray, tandem rotor aircraft for a mission they and the rest of the world had been looking forward to for months.
The mission, one of historic significance, was to pick up election workers in their CH-46E Sea Knight and transport them to the polling stations in time for the Iraqi election. For the first time in 50 years Iraqis would vote.
"I was able to fly more than 40 hours with HMM-265 and help fly election officials all over the country,” said Capt. Cory Shackelton, pilot, HMM-264 and Annapolis, Md. native. “That has been one of my favorite missions thus far in the deployment.”
The Black Knights have logged more than 40 flight hours per day for their first three weeks of flying. Missions range from general support to quick reaction force missions, delivering infantry units to their objective within two hours.
“We usually do general support missions that include the transport of cargo and passengers all over our area of operations,” Shackelton said. “ We also do tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel missions. Those missions return personnel and aircraft to their home base.”
While the Black Knights’ log long hours in the air, the mechanics of the helicopter have been working equally as hard maintaining a demanding flight schedule.
“We have flown more than 276 hours since we took over for HMM-265, Feb. 19. At this rate we will fly over 1,000 hours a month,” said Sgt. Kenneth L. Benson Jr., data analyst, HMM-264 and Columbia, Mo., native. “Our maintainers have put in more than 1,000 hours working on the aircraft and keeping them functional.”
“To help keep up with demand, the maintainers have to work together in every way possible to help the stress of the busy flight schedule,” said Lance Cpl. Lucas Rusch, flightline mechanic and Green Bay, Wisc., native.
“We help out in anyway we can,” Rusch said. “It is all for the good of the unit, so that we can accomplish our mission as a whole.”
Rusch and the other mechanics understand they are the ones who keep their fellow Marines safe in the air.
“We are the last people to see that aircraft before it takes off,” said Rusch. “It is our job to send out the safest birds possible.”
With the start of their deployment showing off the versatility of their aircraft, the Black Knights are primed and ready for a success.
“We’re prepared for this operation,” Rusch said. “We have all been training and preparing for this for months. Now it is time to show our readiness.”