By Staff Sgt. Joe Armas, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. PAOJune 7, 2011
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan " Tireless days that turn into tireless nights- it's full speed ahead for the soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. As the brigade's aircraft roll into theater, it is the duty of the brigade's aircraft maintainers and maintenance test pilots to ensure the aircraft are fully mission capable and are safe for the pilots who will take the machines into combat.
The process started late last month, as the first batch of helicopters began arriving in country.
"It [the maintenance buildup process] starts from the time the aircraft is downloaded and transported to the area where the majority of the initial maintenance is conducted," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Cliff Mead, the brigade's aviation maintenance officer, originally from Redding, Ca.
"Then, an initial assessment of the aircraft is made, and the build crews proceed with the initial maintenance," said Mead.
Mead notes that taking extra precautions while moving the aircraft is a must, or risking costly damage to the aircraft or injury to personnel becomes a possibility.
Depending on the aircraft, he points out, the maintenance can be relatively simple, or in the case of the CH-47F Chinook helicopter, it can be a drawn out process that requires extensive time and effort.
The rigging process for example, which can be time consuming, helps ensure the flight controls of the Chinook helicopter align correctly, so that the aircraft flies the way it was designed to.
As for the maintainers, they each have military occupation specialties that normally bind them to one specific airframe, whether that airframe is a CH-47F Chinook, UH-60L Black Hawk, or an AH-64D Apache, according to Staff Sgt. James Wilson, section sergeant, Company B, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st ACB, originally from Yorba Linda, Ca.
With a time crunch that is mission critical, the maintainers have taken a flexible approach to their tasking. They've come together as a team to assemble and perform scheduled and unscheduled aircraft maintenance regardless of airframe affiliation.
"It's one team, one fight at this point," said Wilson.
"The goal is for the ground commanders to never notice any transition," said Mead. "The same level of support they get today from the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade [the outgoing unit] should be the same that they receive tomorrow from the 1st ACB."
Wilson points out that the less-experienced soldiers in the brigade reap the benefits of being part of the build teams.
"We have a lot of young soldiers out here who are relatively new to the Army and they have been doing an outstanding job to this point," he said. "Everyone is constantly learning and improving their craft."
One of those young soldiers is Pfc. Abraham Xiong, assigned to Company D, Task Force Lobos, 1st ACB, originally from Minneapolis.
Xiong, who is an AH-64D Apache helicopter mechanic, said that he relishes the opportunity to work on different airframes and expand his knowledge about overall aircraft maintenance.
"Everyone seems to have a positive attitude out here," he said. "It's been great working with different people and learning about the different airframes in our brigade," he said.
As the maintainers conclude their initial tasks, the baton is then passed to the maintenance test pilots, who take to the skies to ensure proper functionality of the aircraft prior to releasing the aircraft back to their assigned line units within the brigade.
Xiong, who is on his first deployment, touched on what he sees as the overall big picture in reference to the work he has done along with his fellow maintainers.
"When these aircraft come back from missions, to see what they do…saving lives and taking the fight to the enemy, it feels good to know that we'll contribute in some form to their overall success," he said.