News: Aviation maintenance saves time, money in Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The U.S. Marines use many different aircraft to conduct a litany of combat operations in southwestern Afghanistan.
But maintaining those various types of aircraft can be a challenge.
“We have a Marine aircraft wing out here in a harsh environment. We have aircraft facing combat situations and small-arms fire,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Erick Heilman, the officer-in-charge of the Fleet Readiness Center detachment in Afghanistan.
The detachment in Afghanistan is in place to address those challenges and help maintain aircraft, saving the Marine Corps precious time as the coalition conducts vital counterinsurgency operations here and saving American taxpayers precious dollars.
Since 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) arrived in theater in February 2011, the center has performed more than 400 repairs on more than 100 different aircraft.
“We conduct depot-level maintenance across the area of operations,” said Chief Petty Officer Dirk Lueders, the leading chief petty officer for the detachment.
Depot-level maintenance is the most intensive aircraft maintenance, and occurs only with issues that cannot be resolved by enlisted Marine Corps mechanics directly attached to the aircraft squadrons, or by a Marine Corps aviation logistics squadron.
“Like all the guys in the squadrons up and down the runway, my guys are just doing what we can do to keep the aircraft flying,” said Keith Presser, an aircraft planner and estimator with the detachment.
The readiness center is staffed by civilian aviation maintenance experts, like Presser, explained Heilman. Like their military counterparts, these civilians are forward deployed to Afghanistan – serving tours of duty of three to six months.
“We bring in civilians who are experts in fields like sheet metal and structural repair work,” added Heilman, a native of Detroit.
Heilman said deploying civilian experts to Afghanistan reduces the amount of time and money it takes to repair aircraft.
“If we had to send an aircraft back to the States for every individual repair it would cost around $500,000 and two weeks of time,” he said. “You never know when having an aircraft back in action a few days faster will save a Marine’s life.”
The center is also manned by Sailors from the U.S. Navy Reserve. This forward-deployed combat repair unit from Naval Air Systems Command assists the civilians in keeping the Marine Corps aircraft flying.
“The civilians are the technical guys – we’re here to assist them,” said Lueders, a native of Ramsey, Minn. “Each one has 15-20 years of knowledge in this field. They’re a fountain of knowledge.”
Heilman said the Sailors are in place to facilitate the work of the civilians and also help with repairs when the workload requires.
Presser said over his 27 year career, he has worked in maintenance depots all over the world. Here in Afghanistan, his mission is clear: keep aircraft flying in support of the ground troops.
“The guys outside the fence, they have the hardship,” Presser said. “We’re just here to get the planes up so [Marine aviation] can help those guys.”