AL ASAD, Iraq --
An accountant notices that a decimal is out of place and saves someone thousands of dollars.
A service member on a convoy notices that sand in an area looks fresh, later determined to be an IED. A Marine notices a piece of metal on the flightline that turns out to be brake pieces from a Harrier. What do these have in common? Attention to detail.
The latter of the three was Pfc. Ryan D. Curlee, an aviation ordnance technician with Marine Fighter Squadron 542, whose attention to detail potentially saved a multi-million dollar aircraft and the lives of his fellow Marines.
“Pfc. Curlee did a great job,” said Capt. Nathaniel B. Stusse, the pilot of the aircraft with VMA-542. “He was observant and had good situational awareness. He was professional and followed through on his observation.”
The Simpson County, Miss., native, who joined the Corps’ ranks June 6, 2006, has been with the squadron since March 8. On what seemed like a normal day for the ordnance Marines, Curlee’s keen eye spotted something out of place.
“We were out at the arm/de-arm area and we were de-arming a jet to go back to the line and when the second jet took off I looked around and right behind the main there was a chunk of metal,” explained Curlee. “I gave it to Sgt. Ellis and he gave it to (Quality Assurance).”
After Curlee’s initial discovery, Sgt. Joel C. Ellis, the ordnance line chief for VMA-542, made sure that he and his Marines thoroughly searched the area.
“He noticed that there was a piece of metal out there, so he brought it to my attention and he told me it was kind of warm and that maybe it came from that jet,” explained the Mesa, Ariz. Native. “But we weren’t sure, so we did a FOD walk, and sure enough we found another piece.”
After reporting the metal to quality assurance, airframes looked at it and decided it was a piece of the brake and then they went to both jets and figured out it which one it belonged to.
“Even though we don’t work on the airframe and stuff like that it looked familiar,” said Ellis. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew who to talk to about it. Anytime we find something like that we notify quality assurance and then they can notify the proper shops and take the appropriate action.”
Although it did not seem like a big deal at the time for Curlee, following proper procedure proved to be life-saving.
“At first I didn’t think it was that big of a deal and then I realized that the brakes could have gone out on the pilot and it would have been game over,” said Curlee. “It feels pretty good.”
Curlee’s attention to detail is something that he learned in basic training just like every other Marine, but he attributes his noncommissioned officer for the added dedication.
“Sgt. Ellis always makes me pay attention to detail, like whenever he goes over to look at the jets he makes me go with him,” explained Curlee. “When we go out there I always look around for rocks and stuff like that.”
Ellis understands the importance of looking for FOD and makes sure that all his Marines adopt the same mentality.
“It is very critical for us to look for FOD,” explained Ellis. “It could have been anyone of the Marines here; they all pay special attention to detail. They know the importance of (FOD-walking). We don’t deal much with engine pulls, but when the engine gets FODed out, it means countless man hours for something that could have been prevented. We know how important it is because if a jet goes down then we might not be able to make the flight schedule.”
Despite encouraging all his Marines to be constantly looking for FOD, he can always count on Curlee to ensure that the flightline is as FOD-free as possible.
“Curlee is always finding stuff out there,” explained Ellis. “Just the other night we were driving and he spotted something and it turned out to be a frog.”
Curlee was recognized by his squadron and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, but one Marine was much more grateful.
“I am appreciative of Pfc. Curlee and all the Marines that make these planes fly,” said Stusse. “I may fly the jet, but the real thing that makes it fly is the hundred Marines like Curlee who work day and night. The quality and dedication of the Marines who work on the aircraft gives me great confidence.”