By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt
Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Every time a Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldier hears the familiar sound of "thump, thump, thump" as helicopters rip through Middle Eastern skies, there is a team of maintainers ensuring troops continue to hear that familiar sound.
Staffed with everything from mechanics to electricians to avionic gurus, Soldiers of Company B, 404th Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, are the unsung heroes behind the mystic war bird's flight and the service they perform.
Everyday, maintainers ensure the welcome sound of the Army helicopter never leaves the ears of troops operating on the ground – because the sound of a helicopter means something good is about to happen as they conduct their missions.
Maintainers from the more than 300-Soldier strong company keep the helicopters flying by enforcing phase maintenance at scheduled hours during a helicopter's combat life. In addition, the Soldiers are supported by more than 100 civilian contractors, who have former Army maintainers in their ranks.
"Helicopters are not like cars, where you get it fixed and then drive off," said Staff Sgt. Alan Garant, section sergeant and floor supervisor for the Apache helicopter section from Fall River, Mass. "Here, everything is inspected and re-inspected, to include the tiniest screw, to make sure it is installed properly."
"The purpose of phase maintenance is to inspect the entire aircraft and check the wear and tear on the parts," he said, smiling as he talked about his pride and joy, the Apache helicopter, in his thick Massachusetts accent. "Although every system has a backup, you want both systems to work. Everything is doubled on the aircraft. They even have two engines."
Once the aircraft is scheduled for phase maintenance, it is brought into the service bay, stripped down, critical parts are inspected for wear and tear, worn or broken parts are replaced or repaired and the aircraft is inspected again. Maintenance flights are conducted to see how the new parts are performing, and then the aircraft is sent back into action.
Phase maintenance is conducted depending on the number of combat hours the bird has flown and the type of aircraft being serviced. At 500 hours, the Apaches are brought into the shop; every 200 hours, the Chinooks are parked in the maintenance bay; and every 360 hours, the Black Hawk and air ambulance helicopters are inspected and repaired from top to bottom.
"We do this to prevent damage to the aircraft and to periodically inspect it," said Staff Sgt. James Ahn, section sergeant for the Chinooks, who hails from Tempe, Ariz. "We pretty much just keep the aircraft in the air to support the troops on the ground. This aircraft is a workhorse, with it constantly transporting supplies and personnel throughout Iraq."
Since the CAB has taken over responsibility of the MND-B area of operations for aviation support nearly two months ago, the aviation unit has flown nearly 10,000 combat hours with its fleet of aircraft. In addition, fuelers from the brigade have pumped in nearly one million gallons of fuel into the thirsty beasts.
With a constant demand for aviation support and combat operations throughout Iraq, maintainers have the task of keeping the aircrafts running efficiently to support the mission and ensure the safety of its passengers.
"I troubleshoot the electrical system, and I repair them as needed," said Spc. David Applegate, avionic mechanic from Houston. "The sole mission of our company is to keep these helicopters in tip-top shape. When the helicopters are in tip-top shape, the mission is in tip-top shape."
This work, Maintainers keep CAB war birds in tip-top shape, by SFC Brent Hunt, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.