AL ASAD, Iraq -- Al Asad is home to hundreds of aircraft mechanics who are heavily relied upon to keep the aircraft here supporting the mission of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). Whether they’re working under the blazing sun or during the not much cooler nights, the mechs do their best to maintain combat-ready aircraft.
One such Marine is Lance Cpl. Nick Bredehoft, a CH-46E airframes mechanic and aerial observer assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764.
After graduating from Hill Crest High School in his native Dallas, Bredehoft attended Richland College. He was preparing to transfer to Southern Methodist University and join the swim team there, when he suffered an injury to his left shoulder.
The sudden change of plans led him to make a decision that would change his life forever.
“I wanted to join the Marine Corps since I was a little kid,” said Bredehoft. “College wasn’t working out and a buddy and I decided to give (the Corps) a try.”
Bredehoft set foot on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego in November 2002. After basic training he attended schools where he learned to be an airframes mechanic for KC-130 aerial refuelers. While attending a basic airframes school in Pensacola, Fla., Bredehoft met the woman he’d marry.
A Marine reservist, Bredehoft was sent to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. He was assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234 where he served for a few months before finding out his young bride, a service member in the U.S. Air Force, was being assigned to Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
Bredehoft’s superiors in the squadron arranged for him to transfer to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and become a CH-46E Sea Knight airframes mech. The move landed him with HMM-764 and closer to his wife. But that didn’t last long.
Shortly after transferring to California, Bredehoft’s unit was activated and scheduled to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They arrived here in February 2004. “My daughter was born two days before we deployed,” said Bredehoft.
Affected by the separation, the young father stayed in touch with his wife and newborn baby by using the phones and computers available in the phone and Internet centers here. While at work, a blaring boom box helped him ‘zone out’ and focus on the job.
And when it rains, it pours. In April 2004, two months into the deployment, the unit found out their activation was extended and that they’d be coming back to Iraq the following year. Bredehoft wasn’t happy.
“To me that was bad news,” he said. “I had a newborn little girl and I didn’t think I was going to get much time with her, coming back out here for another six months.”
The time went by and the squadron returned to the U.S. in September. When personnel in the squadron were asking for volunteers to be aerial observers Bredehoft jumped at the opportunity to do something different.
“There were a few spots open,” he said. “I love flying and I thought it would be a good experience.”
Back in Iraq since March, Bredehoft completed the required training in May and was presented with the combat aircrew insignia at a squadron formation in June. Among the things the aerial observer syllabus includes are basic knowledge, emergency procedures and servicing of the CH-46E, aerial gunner qualifications and high-level and low-level night vision goggles flights.
Since his return to Iraq he has been out flying and works as an airframes mechanic when he’s not on the flight schedule. This time around his spirits are a lot higher.
“I love being an aerial observer,” he said. “It’s a lot different than just working and doing the same thing every night. Now I get to see the whole country and I have a great time doing it. This makes the deployment a lot better and it seems like it’s going by a lot faster.”
As an aerial observer Bredehoft serves as an assistant to the helicopter crew chief and handles the loading and off-loading of passengers. He also serves as the pilots’ eyes from the back of the cabin, keeping a watchful eye on the ground for enemy activity and in the air for anything that can present a hazard to the helicopter such as towers, wires or other aircraft.
Like Bredehoft, many of the already essential aircraft mechanics here have taken the challenge of serving as aerial observers. Their motivation and dedication, whether it is repairing aircraft or manning a .50 caliber machine gun, are instrumental in their units completing all of their assigned missions and translate into daily accomplishments in the Marine Corps’ efforts to establish a free Iraq.
- For more information about the Marine reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org -