AL ASAD, Iraq -- Sergeant Timothy G. Stickel a crew chief assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 goes through his pre-flight checklist aboard a CH-46E Sea Knight in preperation for another mission.
Once airborne, flying over hostile territory, the Chester, Va. native mans the .50 caliber machine gun and scans the earth looking for the slightest bit of irregular activity.
It is up to him to ensure the safety of the passengers and the success of the mission. If anything goes wrong he is trained to fix the problem. From mechanical failure to responding to hostile fire, Stickel is responsible for everything but pointing the aircraft in the right direction.
Stickel joined the Marine Corps in 1996, a year after graduating from Thomas Dale High School, where he played varsity football and baseball for four years.
“I wanted to join for the experience,” he said. “I had been going to college and had aspirations of being a cop, that is why I wanted to be in security forces with the grunts.”
Stickel worked for two years in Bangor, Wash., guarding a strategic weapons facility. While in Washigton state Stickel demonstrated his maturity when he as a lance corporal was assigned as the corporal of the guard and supervised an entire shift.
After his tour in the Pacific Northwest, Stickel transferred to Golf Company 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he finished his first enlistment and decided to become a CH-46 crew chief.
After a year of schools, including Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, Stickel returned to the fleet as a crew chief assigned to the Black Knights at Marine Corps Air Station New River.
“I love this job,” Stickel said. “Just being up in the air, the flying experience. I also have a lot more responsibility.”
A crew chief is responsible for everything that happens in the aft section of the aircraft, from manning a .50 caliber machine gun to being a loadmaster for the CH-46.
“If anything goes wrong it is up to me to determine what it is and how to fix it,” Stickel said. “At times I’m an in flight mechanic.”
Being one of the only enlisted Marines in the aircraft’s crew, Stickel has built a close relationship with the pilots in the squadron.
“Sergeant Stickel is a consumate professional,” said 1st Lt. Travis J. Unser, pilot, HMM-264 and Tulsa, Okla., native. “I have never witnessed Stickel not keep a professional relationship with our Marines.”
Stickel is a very valuable asset to the Black Knights. He is the non commissioned officer in charge of crew chief training, responsible for making sure all of the crew chiefs have their qualifications up to date. Stickel is also a weapons tactics and tail gunner instructor.
“It is very easy to loose your patience while teaching someone about the aircraft,” said Capt. Ryan Morning, pilot, HMM-264 and Altoona, Penn., native “He’s patient with all of his junior crew chiefs.”
Stickel has progressed rapidly and continues to attain more knowledge and experience in his craft.
“In only four years I have every qualification a crew chief can have at the squadron level,” Stickel said. “One goal of mine is to be an instructor at the Weapons Tactics Instructor Course.”
Being an instructor at the WTI course is one of the final qualifications that Stickel has yet to achieve, but he is showing his teaching ability everyday at HMM-264.
“Whenever any of the crew chiefs have a problem and can’t come up with a solution they always go to Stickel for answers on anything,” Unser said. “His peers look up to him because he is always teaching or helping. He is their ‘go to guy’ and he has the patience to explain it to them every time.”
“Sergeant Stickel is a great crew chief,” said Cpl. Justin A. Sherrer, crew chief, HMM-264 and Richmond, Texas, native. “He has a lot of experience and is a professional.”
This deployment is not the first for Stickel to Iraq. He and his fellow Black Knights deployed as the aviation combat element of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Iwo Jima during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003.
“We launched from the Iwo Jima and flew across Turkey and landed in Mosul, Iraq,” Stickel said. “We were there for three weeks until an Army unit replaced us and we returned to the ship and finished our scheduled deployment.”
Although Stickel was only in country a few weeks, he can see a difference from the last time he was here.
“I feel like we are moving in the right direction,” He said. “Everything isn’t going to happen overnight. From the first time I was here to now is like night and day. Good things will continue to happen.”
Although he feels it is important to be here, there are a few things about home he misses.
“My family is really close, and not being able to go see them anytime I want is hard at times,” Stickel said. “But that is part of our job. We deploy, accomplish our mission and return home to our families. This deployment will be no different.”