AL ASAD, Iraq -- A team of CH-46E Sea Knight mechanics, technicians and metalsmiths packed their bags, donned their uniforms and deployed here earlier this year to assist in extending the service life of Marine Corps helicopters in Iraq.
But this team isn’t wearing the same uniforms as the other Marines and sailors here. They sport blue T-shirts and trousers and while their days of active duty service are gone, their loyalty to the organizations and commitment to the mission have not changed.
Made up of 15 Marine and Navy veterans who together bring more than 200 years of experience in repairing and maintaining helicopters, Boeing’s Iraq Reconstitution Team receives two to three helicopters in their hangar every month. They keep each aircraft for 30 days and return them to their squadrons after being overhauled.
Jack Kerstetter, team leader, said they break down the helicopters from nose to tail and prepare them for material condition inspections. Once the inspections are done the maintenance begins. “We correct all maintenance discrepancies found,” said Kerstetter, a New Bern, N.C., native.
John deGaynor, a CH-46E avionics technician and Wilmington, N.C., native, said they’re not here taking away the jobs of Marine helicopter mechanics; they’re helping rehabilitate the aircraft as much as they can while the aircraft remains in Iraq.
While a helicopter that has only been flown in the United States is turned in for maintenance it usually has an average of 150 discrepancies that require 500 man-hours of maintenance. The helicopters here average 300 or more discrepancies and require more than 1,400 man-hours of maintenance.
“After we do what we do to a helicopter it performs 10 times better than when we got it,” said Kerstetter. “Whenever we give it back we usually get comments like ‘This is the tightest plane on the line.’”
And Kerstetter said that’s what makes the team’s days. “If the Marines are happy then we’re happy,” he said. “We get nothing but good comments from the squadrons.”
Other aircraft manufacturers have also sent reconstitution teams here, but the CH-46E outnumbers other types and models of aircraft in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).
“My team works harder and longer than the other teams here and that’s because we have more aircraft,” said Kerstetter. “I don’t want to take anything away from the other teams, but we have a lot of aircraft to push before we leave.”
Deploying reconstitution teams saves time and money. Without them here the helicopters would have to be broken down and transported in cargo planes back to the U.S. They would then be put together, tested, broken down again, inspected and worked on.
After being repaired they would be put together again, tested, broken down and transported back here, where mechanics would put them together and test them before using them in real-world operations. Transporting the helicopters of two or more squadrons, three helicopters at a time, is expensive.
“By us coming here the Marine Corps is saving what could be months of work and astronomical amounts of money,” said Kerstetter. “And whenever the units returned from deployment after being here for months the Marines would have to do a lot of work before being able to go on leave. Now they can go on leave as soon as they get back, so from the morale standpoint I’d say it’s working too.”
The Boeing Iraq Reconstitution Team deployed here for a year. Kerstetter hand-selected each one of the team members and is proud of the work they’re performing.
One of the Marine veterans in the team served as a helicopter crew chief during the Vietnam War and later served during the Gulf War before retiring from the Corps with 30 years of service. Kerstetter said that when he asked him to come here the immediate answer was “Yes, it will be my third shot at doing something.”
“He didn’t care how long he’d have to be here or what the pay would be,” said Kerstetter.
Keeping a positive mental attitude and doing whatever they can to beat the routine helps them get by day after day while they’re away from their loved ones. Deployed to a combat zone, even when they’re not in the Marine Corps or the Navy anymore, they’re working hard and making a difference for some of the squadrons operating throughout the Al Anbar province.
“I wouldn’t trade any of them for anybody else,” said Kerstetter. “They do what they’re told and they do it right.”
- For more information about the Marine or Navy veterans reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org -