BRADSHAW FIELD TRAINING AREA, Northern Territory, Australia -- If there comes a time that the commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit finds himself needing a cobra or venom, they will be available.
The Marines of Marine Light Attack Squadron 369, currently attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, have kept the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters in a constant state of readiness through the unit’s Fall Patrol.
For more than a month at sea, two weeks of bilateral training during Exercise Talisman Saber 13 and the current week of training for Exercise Koolendong 13 here, the four Super Cobras and three Venoms of the 31st MEU’s aviation combat element have been mission-ready.
“I always say that the Marines on this MEU need to be ready and flexible, and our HMLA-369 maintainers truly understand aircraft readiness,” said Col. John E. Merna, the Commanding Officer of the 31st MEU and a native of Prince George County, Md.
In order to maintain the aircrafts’ ready status, a close team of professionals provide constant attention. Crew chiefs, avionics technicians, ordnance technicians and airframe technicians work together on a tireless process.
It begins with a 3-4 hour inspection of every part of the aircraft, inside and out, conducted by the crew chiefs responsible for ensuring the aircraft’s safety. This inspection typically occurs the day prior to operation.
“A crew chief has to know every piece of the aircraft and be able to determine if they are good or bad,” said Sgt. Brian D. Richardson, a 29-year-old Venom crew chief for VMM-265 (Rein), 31st MEU, and a native of Leesburg, Fla. “If a crew chief finds a problem, we turn it over to the shop that covers that area.”
Avionics Marines assist the crew chief if a problem were found in the helicopter’s lighting components, thermal imaging system, wiring, battery or any other electrical component. Their routine checks involve starting the auxiliary power unit and providing an overall diagnostic of electrical systems.
“Anything the crew chiefs find during their inspections gives us a jump start in repairing it before it becomes a major problem,” said Sgt. Jeffrey O. Burton, a 25-year-old avionics noncommissioned officer in charge for VMM-265 (REIN), 31st MEU, and a native of Goose Creek, S.C.
Ordnance Marines tend to the weapons systems of the aircraft, to include the AGM 114 Hellfire Missile Launcher, 7.62mm GAU17/A weapon system, the .50 caliber GAU-21 machine gun, 7.62 mm M240D machine gun and all countermeasures. They completely break down, inspect, clean and lubricate the weapons.
“We do inspections, corrosion prevention and treatments every day,” said Cpl. Brandon C. Tomlinson, a 22-year-old ordnance supervisor for VMM-265 (REIN), 31st MEU, and a native of Hahira, Ga.
Airframes Marines make sure the aircraft is structurally sound and the hydraulic components are working properly. Their structural inspections make sure fasteners are holding strong after many hours of vibrations during flight. They also repair hydraulic pumps, the oil cooler and other essential components.
“Attention to detail is key for us, because if we don’t maintain the fasteners, the ‘bird’ falls apart,” said Sgt. Mark T. Walker, a 33-year-old airframes non-commissioned officer in charge for VMM-265 (REIN), 31st MEU, and a native of Tampa, Fla.
Every aspect of maintenance is vital to the continued operation of the complicated aircraft, but each section pinpoints one aspect in particular that can be attributed to the reliability of the Venoms and Super Cobras: teamwork.
“If we need help with something, avionics comes running. If airframes needs a hand, we come running,” said Tomlinson. “It doesn’t matter which shop it is, we’re all there to help complete the mission.”
With in-depth knowledge of their trades, solid communication and pride in their aircrafts’ record of readiness this patrol, the maintainers of the “skids” sections will continue to be ready for the commander’s call.
The “skids” section is supporting the battalion-sized element conducting exercise Koolendong 13. Koolendong demonstrates the operational reach of the 31st MEU and reinforces why it is the Marine Corps' force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region. Also participating in the exercise is the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and soldiers of the 5th Royal Australian Regiment. The 31st MEU brings what it needs to sustain itself to accomplish the mission or to pave the way for follow-on forces.