PHITSANULOK, Kingdom of Thailand - U.S. Army Spc. Chauncey Ikaika Akau lies on the ground beneath the fuselage of an AH-64D Apache Longbow to check for any leaks. Both Akau and the helicopter he's working on are with 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment stationed at Wheeler Army Airfield Hawaii. He crawls out from under the aircraft to continue with the rest of his pre-flight maintenance checks before it takes off for a mission during Exercise Cobra Gold 2020, Feb. 26.
"My main purpose and goal is to make sure these Apaches are full-fit operational to support the other units throughout the exercise," Akau explains.
Over four thousand American service members from the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force are participating in exercise Cobra Gold alongside troops of six other partner nations.
"I enjoy that these helicopters can support my brothers on the ground, the infantry as well as provide support to other aviation platforms like the Blackhawk and the Chinook," he says.
When he first enlisted in the U.S. Army, Akau, a native of Waimanalo, Hawaii, relied on Apaches like the ones he currently services as a 15R attack helicopter repairer.
"I joined as an infantryman and went to Fort Campbell," Akau said. "Then, I decided to join aviation. I decided to become a 15R, and a year later, I got stationed back in Hawaii, back to where I'm originally from."
The relationship between Akau and his fellow maintainers is critical in the high pressure world of aircraft maintenance.
"We're a really tight crew," he says. "We do a really good job of maintaining the aircraft. It's important to move fast, but to also be meticulous."
Akau's participation in Cobra Gold is his first time serving overseas and he wants to make sure that he makes the most of the opportunity.
"As a specialist, what I want to take away from the exercise is being able to better project maintenance," he says. "I want us to know the aircraft well, so we can be completely confident in our work and can be more effective."
No matter where his job may take him, Akau knows the best part of the job is seeing the crews return from a successful mission on an aircraft he maintains.
"When they come back we're always happy to see each other," he said. "Making these birds come back home and bringing the pilots back safely is the most rewarding part of this job."