AL ASAD, Iraq -- People that join the military sometimes get a military occupational specialty other than what they originally intended. Most Marines don’t let that slow them down; they take it in stride and make the most of being one of the few, the proud.
Lance Cpl. Kyle D. Witkowski, a CH-46E helicopter mechanic with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, always wanted to serve his country and now he’s accomplishing that mission by serving on his first deployment to Iraq and becoming as proficient in his MOS as he can.
“I originally wanted to become a crew chief, but I didn’t meet the Marine Corps standards on vision requirements,” said Witkowski. “I joined up knowing they could put me in this job and they ended up doing that, so here I am. I’m glad to be able to support the guys on the ground and give our country a little bit back.”
Having joined the Marine Corps in July of 2005, Witkowski is a relatively new addition to the fleet. He spent approximately seven months at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar prior to deploying.
“This job wasn’t my first choice,” he said. “But, once you learn your job and can do more on your own and contribute more to the way the aircraft performs without someone over your shoulder, it’s rewarding. You have more confidence of what your abilities are and you’re contributing more to the job, your shop, and the squadron.”
Although he is still learning from other Marines at the ‘161 Flightline section, he is dedicated to providing the best possible maintenance to the aircraft.
“He takes the information the first time around and goes full force,” said Staff Sgt. Marcelo Caldas, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Flightline section. “This is not the job that he wanted, but that hasn’t stopped him from progressing.”
Witkowski represents a large portion of deployed Marines, as a lance corporal with only a year and half in the Corps.
“I expected to come out here and be working a lot,” he said. “These aircraft are old, but they are very reliable and require a lot of maintenance, but what you put into the aircraft, it’s going to give back to you.”
His daily job is to ensure the air crews have mission capable aircraft. Aircraft must receive either a daily or turnaround inspection which ensures the helicopter is mechanically sound for either 72 or 24 hours respectively.
“Out here, our aircraft are flying a lot more than back home,” said Witkowski, a Rochester Hills, Mich., native. “The environment is different. We have really sandy conditions which break down the parts faster. The heat also has an impact on the parts and equipment. The fluids need to be filled more frequently due to the dryness and the fluids must be kept contaminant free.”
Every morning aircraft are designated for missions, then inspected by helicopter mechanics to ensure mission capability.
“First thing in the morning, the outgoing shift passes word to us about the status of the aircraft,” said Witkowski. “After that, we’ll do operations checks on the aircraft. That’s about a 10 minute flight where the pilots take the bird up and the mechanics are tested, the weapons are tested, and they fill the aircraft’s fuel. After the ops flight, the bird is considered mission capable and ready for casualty evacuations.”
The “Greyhawks” currently bear the casualty evacuation mission for Multi-National Force -West, Iraq, so the squadron must keep their aircraft operational at all times.
“Maintenance is continuous out here,” said Witkowski. “You’re never working on just one bird. You’re working back and forth on all the birds making sure they’re good to go.”
With only a few months of the deployment under his belt, Witkowski has found meaning in his work.
“My favorite part of the job is watching this aircraft go out and perform casualty evacuations after you spent time working on it,” said Witkowski. “Knowing that it’s going out there and saving someone’s life.”
The Marine that wanted to do his part to support his country has found his place during the deployment.
“The best part of the deployment is coming out here and getting the job done every day,” said the Greyhawk. “After 12 hours you feel good that you put that much work into something that’s worthwhile.”
If he has learned one thing as a helo mechanic, it’s staying dedicated. Helicopter mechanics must exercise attention to detail when dealing with small issues to keep them from leading into larger mechanical issues.
“You can’t rush this job,” said Witkowski. “Every time this bird takes off someone’s life is in your hands. That’s why the most important part of the job is making sure things are done properly, not rushed.”