AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- For the Purple Foxes of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, conducting casualty evacuation missions while providing general support for the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing puts a lot of flight time on their helicopters.
Keeping their aircraft in the fight is a big challenge while deployed here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The squadron combats engine and general wear on their aircraft by conducting scheduled maintenance, called phase maintenance, on all of their CH-46E Sea Knights.
Every 150 flight-hours a Purple Fox aircraft flies it is sent to a group of Marines whose job it is to take the aircraft apart and inspect its different components for quality and safety.
The group of five Marines, known as the phase crew, spends their long days inspecting and repairing anything from flight controls to the smallest engine component to keep their birds combat ready.
“We break the aircraft completely down, inspect every section and repair or replace what is broken. We also lubricate and calibrate different parts to keep every piece of the aircraft ready for action,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Freeman, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the HMM-364 phase crew.
The phase crew has worked diligently since their arrival in March and proven their self worth by completing 21 phase inspections in the five months HMM-364 has been here.
“It takes an average of 10 days to complete an inspection,” Freeman said. “But our guys have been able to get some done in as little as four days which ensures the squadron is able to keep aircraft in the fight.”
With the repetitive work that goes along with being a part of the phase crew, it is a great way for junior Marines to learn the aircraft in a way that cannot be matched anywhere else in the squadron according to Sgt. Ryan Bogedin, a flightline mechanic and Westland, Mich., native. “They can gain a lot of experience by doing the same tasks time and time again.”
“The education you get in the phase crew is valuable,” said Pfc. Timothy Wade, a flightline mechanic and Wortham, Texas, native. “Working just in the flightline shop you might see a break and you learn how to fix it that instant, but if you don’t see it again you’ll forget it. Here you don’t have that problem because you fix the same problems over and over again. The processes get embedded in your mind and you can recall that information a lot faster.”
Serving in Iraq is hard on the Purple Foxes helicopters. The aircraft have been in country for 18 months, with different units rotating in on them every time a new unit reports aboard.
“The things we see more of here are cracks and blown seals, strictly because of the intense heat of the desert and the wear and tear they have received over the past couple of years,” Freeman said. “Ensuring the aircraft are inspected thoroughly and properly is an important job that keeps our aircrews alive and lets the mission continue.”
The Purple Foxes will return to Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif., in due time, but there is still a lot of work to be done. With the phase crew working hard and staying attentive to what the aircraft need, the Purple Foxes will have no problems continuing to support the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing as they work to help make a brighter Iraq for all of its citizens.
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