Photo Information

The Marine Corps' only Bengal stripped F/A-18D Hornet, from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 224, screeches to a halt after hooking on to expeditionary arresting gear. Sgt. James S. Happley, MWSS-271 expeditionary airfield technician, runs to check that both sides of the gear are pulling at the same rate seconds after the Hornet touches down.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Pendracki

MWSS-271 techs make it happen on the tarmac

26 Mar 2005 | Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis

Just over the horizon, the pilot can see the welcoming blue lights of the runway. He is trying to stay calm as he guides his disabled jet toward the lights and the safety of the ground.

Drowning out the drones of the safety system that is constantly reminding him he has complete hydraulic failure, he focuses on the yellow light where he knows the cable is going catch his wounded aircraft and bring him to a safe stop.

Although a frightening scenario, the expeditionary airfield technicians of Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, work daily to ensure every aspect of the airfield, from arresting equipment to runway lighting, is operational to support the aircrews here.

"We do anything and everything on the airfield," said Lance Cpl. Caleb J. Fox, expeditionary airfield technician and native of Rio Linda, Calif. "Everything from the lighting and markings, to maintaining the recovery equipment and repairing the surface of the runway. We have even chased wild dogs off the runway and out of the path of jets taking off."

Although the runways and taxi strips are now suitable for most types of aircraft in the military, expeditionary airfield Marines from different squadrons have worked extremely hard to take the dilapidated airfield to where it is today.

Lance Cpl. Barrett A. Crow, who is on his second deployment supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, said the airfield has come a long way since his time here last year.

"At that time, there was only one section of the runway that was usable," said the expeditionary airfield technician and native of Mesquite, Texas. "Since that time we have repaired numerous holes and cracks, set upĀ  permanent lighting and remarked most of the runways and taxi strips."

One of the most critical roles the Marines play in supporting the airfield is maintaining and operating the expeditionary arresting gear, a machine that acts as a catching device for drop-hook aircraft. Like a jet landing on an aircraft carrier, the gear allows aircraft to land on expeditionary airfields in emergency and poor weather situations.

"When you have a human life depending on that gear to stop their jet, you do everything you can to ensure it is going to work," Crow said. "We check and maintain our systems every day."

In addition to the arresting gear, the Marines contribute by spraying dust abating materials to prevent "brown-out" conditions from airborne dust and debris caused by aircraft landing and taking off.

"The dust-abatement treatments greatly improve the visibility and safety for pilots," said Cpl. Brian D. Van Gilder, expeditionary airfield technician and native of Adamstown, Md. "Since we've been here, we have sprayed thousands of gallons to ensure that the pilots can see and have safe conditions to land in."

With all they do for the airfield in support of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), the expeditionary airfield Marines are vital to the success of the mission.

"I'm proud to be out here, this is what we have trained to do," Van Gilder said. "What we do is necessary to the success of the mission here, and it's great to be doing my part."

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