AL ASAD, Iraq -- Throughout the Marine Corps it is known that rank usually equates to experience, but on one combat flight one Marine proved that experience is not exclusive to senior ranking Marines.
Lance Cpl. Matthew Clayton Roberts, a CH-53E “Super Stallion” crew chief with Marine Heavy
Helicopter Squadron 465, was the most experienced section crew chief during a combat flight, March 3.
“We rely on the crew chief heavily to watch out for us,” said 1st Lt. Curtis Lloyd, the communications officer for HMH-465 and Grand Junction, Colo., native. “(Roberts) had the most combat time and was the senior crew chief. He was the one with the most aircraft knowledge in the section.”
At the time Roberts had about 540 total flight hours, which included 287 combat hours.
“I have more hours than people who came into the fleet four months before me,” explained the Cape Girardeau, Miss., native. “It was pretty cool. I knew that I was the go-to-guy on that flight. If anyone had any problems or questions they came to me because I was the senior crew chief and when you fly the crew chief is the most important person on the flight.”
In the aircraft there are four members, the Helicopter Aircraft Commander, the co-pilot, the crew chief and on the left window, the aerial observer. But the most important job in that aircraft belongs to the crew chief.
“A crew chief has to know every limitation of the plane,” said Roberts. “You also have to know where all your levels are supposed to be. There is so much, I could take (someone) in the aircraft and (have that person) point at almost anything and I will be able to at least explain something about it.”
Although Roberts had the most experience on the flight, he knew that he could not slack on the job.
“It feels pretty good, but you have to be on top of what you are doing,” said Roberts. “You don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t know what he is doing and hurts somebody.”
The aircraft is broken into sections of responsibility; station zero to 162 is the cockpit and falls under the pilots, while 162 and back belongs to the crew chief.
“I am responsible for 162 and every six inches to the end of the aircraft,” explained Roberts.
In addition to the mechanical issues of the helicopter, Roberts has to make sure that everything from station 162 back is safe.
“The pilots will ask if we have space for something,” said Roberts. “If I say yes, it’s my responsibility to get it in their in a timely matter, strap it down, make sure its secure, make sure that everyone has got their seatbelt on and that everything is safe
Roberts, who joined the Marine Corps in August 2004, has an important responsibility and vital role in the squadron’s overall mission.
“I am 21 and in charge of a 30 million dollar aircraft,” said Roberts. “I became a crew chief because I wanted to fly. My recruiter asked if I wanted to fly in a helicopter and I said ‘sure’. He said ‘alright then you can be a crew chief.’”
After graduating from recruit training, Roberts went through a series of schools required for all crew chiefs; four months of water survival at Pensacola, Fla., followed by a month of
Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape School, a month in mechanical school in New River, N.C., all culminated by four months of crew chief school.
“The best part (of my job) is flying and knowing that I can do my job and be really good at it,” said Roberts. “I can get my plane ready and have the pilots (check the aircraft) and be confident that they won’t find anything that I didn’t already see and know that my aircraft is ready to go.”
Roberts has had many experiences throughout his deployment, but one mission sticks out in his mind.
“I have gone everywhere and have some cool stuff to talk about,” said Roberts.
Roberts feels he will not forget when he on a mission dropping people off at Hit, Iraq, and he had a close encounter with a mortar, feels that it is an experience that he will not forget.
“We landed and were dropping off people and all of a sudden ‘Ba-Boom, Ba-Boom,” explained Roberts. “I looked at my gun because I thought it went off or something crazy happened and then I saw a big cloud of smoke in front of us.”
“My initial reaction was to look at the back to (Lance Cpl. Richard Chadwick, the aerial observer) because he had the ramp lowered,” said Roberts.
When Roberts signaled Chadwick to get back on the aircraft, a second mortar hit nearby.
“The pilot started to get a little light (with the aircraft), (Chadwick) saw the aircraft go up so he ran up on the ramp, raised it and we took off,” said Roberts. “We got on our guns, but we didn’t see anybody.”
Roberts is a shining example of the young Marines in the squadron that are working above and beyond their rank.
“We have a master sergeant, who is the senior crew chief in the squadron and he’ll fly and do the exact same thing (as a normal crew chief),” explained Lloyd. “So, Roberts stepped up into a position that a master sergeant has filled before.”
Although rank is respected, it is put aside inside the aircraft. Because of the qualifications that the Marines achieve, they are put in positional authority which can put them in charge over someone senior to them, according to Lloyd.
“I think that the fact that a lance corporal has the authority in that aircraft demonstrates very clearly the difference between the air wing and the ground,” explained Lloyd. “When we get out of the aircraft we know where we stand, but in the aircraft it’s a different story and that’s the way it has to operate.”
Roberts is not reserved about making calls as a crew chief, according to Staff Sgt. Samuel Heckart, the flightline staff non-commissioned officer in charge.
“He is a very dedicated Marine and is always anxious to learn,” said Heckart. “He pays close attention to detail and his aircraft is always clean. He’s a good Marine and crew chief.”