AL ASAD, Iraq -- If you could spend a day with an expeditionary airfield Marine, in the States you would see them catching fighter jets with emergency arresting gear on the flightline, or while deployed to Iraq sweeping the flightline for damage and making rapid repairs to ensure a safe landing zone.
The expeditionary airfield technicians of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 are currently deployed to Iraq and are responsible for maintaining the airfield on Al Taqqadum.
In addition to their normal responsibilities, they are also building helicopter landing pads and when required, manning forward arming and refueling points for helicopters.
“When I was told aircraft recovery, I got the impression I was going outside the wire to pick up downed aircraft, something like ‘Blackhawk Down’,” said Cpl. Robert Goodall II, an expeditionary airfield technician with Marine Wing Support Squadron 371. “I got to school and found out I was working with emergency arresting gear for tail-hook aircraft. It’s a little different than I expected, but I like it.”
The EAF technician military occupational specialty differs while home and deployed. While belonging to a station unit in the United States, the job consists of aircraft recovery.
“Back at station we are emergency personnel,” said Goodall, a Chilton, Wis. native. “Usually we get five minutes where the tower will let us know if we have an emergency or precautionary arrestment. Then we go and respond. We go out to our gear and make sure it is up and let the tower know we’re up and we are clear of the runway.”
In aircraft recovery, the Marines work with E-28 emergency arresting gear for tail-hook aircraft like the F/A-18, according to Goodall. Every morning EAF starts up the arresting gear ensuring it has power in case of an emergency. From changing spark plugs to the monthly maintenance, the Marines ensure that the gear is ready to go everyday.
Not every arrestment is a worst case scenario. They take aborted arrestments, when a pilot aborts a take off; precautionary arrestments, when a pilot gets a warning light; and emergency, when a plane has a blown out tire or can’t land on an aircraft carrier.
Just like everything else in the Marine Corps, safety is paramount. When the EAF crew take an arrestment there is no one near the cable on the runway, according to Goodall. They turn on the arrestment gear and move away from it in case something happens to the aircraft or their gear breaks.
“We have a minimum of four people, one on each engine, one between the engines and one in front of the aircraft,” said Goodall. “The guy in the front will make sure the brakes are off by signaling the pilot. Then, the point man gives the signal to the guys on the engines and they retract the cable. The point man gives the cut sign and the two engine operators stop the arrestment gear and the aircraft rolls back off the cable and the pilot puts their tail hook up and goes on their way.”
The Marines work in a deployable billet while attached to a Marine Aircraft Wing and the EAF mission changes dramatically when deployed. The section takes on more responsibility.
“The wing side is expeditionary work and is more difficult, you have to maintain the matting, the markings and the lighting and the expeditionary arrestment gear,” said Staff Sgt. David Bunn, an expeditionary airfield technician with MWSS-371.
All taxiways and runways have to be painted and lighted, so pilots know where to taxi and land on the flightline.
“Lighting is unreal out there, when I left (Al Asad) there were almost 2500 taxiway and runway lights installed,” said Goodall. “We have to make sure they are not down and replace them when they burn out”
In addition to maintaining the flightline on TQ, EAF sets up helicopter landing zones and install matting over terrain as landing pads. The landing pads are generally made of AM-2 matting which is made from aluminum and can withstand the vertical take off and landing of the AV-8B and MV-22. The matting is heat resistant, non-skid and reduces brown out conditions.
“An LZ is basically bringing two or three aircraft in the middle of nowhere,” said Goodall.
The job offers more variety and requires more responsibility, but most Marines prefer the deployed work, according to Bunn, a Grand Rapids, Mich. native. The projects are more time consuming and require more concise labor.
Of all the different types of tasks the EAF Marines perform, there is one they all enjoy.
“We all enjoy taking traps, which are arrestments,” said Bunn. “We all like to take M-31 arrestments, which is the mobile expeditionary arrestment gear. You get to see all the moving parts and the smoke shoot out of the arrestment gear from the friction.”