AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- A Marine who never flew before, jumped at the chance to fly with the Marine Corps as a crew chief.
Now, Cpl. Matthew Grimm, enjoys facing new challenges everyday as a CH-46E crew chief. Every flight yields new transportation, timeline, or training challenges. He prefers his birds-eye-view of Iraq because he gets to see everything the troops on the ground don’t.
The Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 crew chief, along with the “Flying Tigers,” is on his first deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I’ve been on three deployments in Southeast Asia, performing humanitarian relief or deployments with the Marine Expeditionary Unit,” said Grimm, a St. Joseph, Mich., native. “I have been in Okinawa for about three years now and I have been waiting to deploy to Iraq the entire time. I love it out here, the flying is good and the money isn’t bad either. I enjoy deploying with the Marines in my shop and when we deploy we always seem to make the best out of the situation.”
On a typical day, Grimm comes in at 6:30 p.m. for the night’s flight brief, which includes timelines for the flight, weather conditions, and threat mitigation. Then, each aircraft’s crew has an individual brief going over safety rules and talking about any training requirements that must be met.
“After the briefs, you start up and go fly the mission,” said Grimm. “Once you get back from the mission, you shut down and conduct a debrief with the pilots.”
During the flight, crew chiefs and aerial observers act as extra sets of eyes looking for any problems, whether they are mechanical issues or enemy fire. They man the aircraft’s weapons as defensive measures.
“Cpl. Grimm is an excellent crew chief,” said Capt. Benjamin Taggart, a CH-46E helicopter pilot from ‘262. “He is an active participant of the flight, and is not afraid to speak up if something is not right.”
After returning from the mission, the crew inspects the plane and prepares it for the day crew.
Every crew chief holds secondary duties as a helicopter mechanic. Since the crew chief is constantly flying in the aircraft they have to be able to conduct maintenance on the bird.
“Out here as a flyer you don’t have much of a chance to do regular maintenance, because you’re flying five to six hours a night,” said Grimm. “Once you come back, you have to inspect the plane and prepare it for the day missions, so there’s not much time for the crew chiefs to do maintenance.”
Before his current deployment, Grimm was chosen to go to Weapons and Tactics Instructor School where he learned how to write schedules, plan weapons and tactics training, and plan missions. The crew chiefs are then expected to train the other crew chiefs and make sure they are prepared to fly combat missions.
“A few of the reasons why I got chosen to go to WTI are because I showed the drive to want to go to the next level,” said Grimm. “I wanted to be like the Marines that had taught me and start teaching the younger crew chiefs what they needed to know to be successful.”
The Flying Tiger’s experience sets him out among his peers.
“I prefer flying with crew chiefs that know how to work as a team and have the experience to recognize situations that pose a threat or danger to the aircraft and crew,” said Taggart, a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native. “It is always nice to have a WTI crew chief on board.”
Grimm, who enlisted in April 2003, wanted to see new places. He had never traveled and figured the Marine Corps was his free ticket around the world.
“I joined the Marine Corps to get out of my town and go see different places,” he said. “I figured the Marine Corps was the best choice, also because my grandfather was a Marine.”
Although he had traveled in a commercial plane before, Grimm felt like he had never really flown. So when his recruiter offered him a crew chief contract, Grimm jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m glad I chose to be a crew chief, I love flying and I’ve flown over a lot of interesting places,” said Grimm.
After approximately a year of schools preparing him to be a crew chief, Grimm arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. Until now, he has only served aboard Okinawa and with the 31st MEU.
“You learn a lot when you fly out on the boat in Okinawa,” said the Flying Tiger. “You hop on the boat and go to the Philippines with the MEU. You learn fast roping, special insert and extract rigging, soft ducking. We do all kinds of raids with the MEU.”
Grimm feels the hardest part of his job is the physical and mental strain encountered while accomplishing different missions.
“It can be physically straining when you are moving a lot of gear, like when we were down in Indonesia doing humanitarian and disaster relief,” said Grimm. “Out here it can be mentally straining when you are out for five to six hours a night, or up to 8 hours during the day moving people and their gear.”
The crew chiefs of ‘262 fall under the Flightline section and are divided into a day and night crew. Grimm has been flying on the night crew for the majority of the deployment.
“I prefer flying at night because you get to go to more places,” he said.
Although Grimm extended his enlistment through the end of the deployment, he is considering other options rather than another contract.
“Right now I am leaning more towards getting out of the Marine Corps so I can either go back to working on cars, or working on civilian aircraft,” said Grimm.
Most of the jobs he is considering are aviation related, such as flying for the police force or becoming an in-flight paramedic for hospitals.
For now, he still has a year left on his contract and feels he has a lot of time to make a decision. He is focusing on the mission at hand and is handling the deployment day-by-day.