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Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16
The unsung heroes, keeping the helos in the air


Story Identification Number: 200349152627
Story by Staff Sgt M.T. Mink

ABOARD USS BOXER (April 4, 2003) -- To understand how Marine Corps Air Station Miramar's Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16 Marines function, you have to think of the airplanes mysterious "Black Box," according to Maj. Tim Herington, officer-in-charge aviation logistics division, MALS-16.

"Squadron Marines can pull the "Black box" from the plane, it takes a MALS Marine to fix what is inside the box," Herington said. "These Marines are the unsung heroes of helicopter maintenance."

Organizational level, or "O" level repairs, can be done by the squadrons; anything that can't be fixed has to be sent to the next level - Intermediate Level.

Intermediate or "I" level repairs are done by MALS Marines.

MALS is comprised of several sections from supply to power plants, and they perform a myriad of jobs keeps Marine Aircraft Group 16's helos literally in the fight. These Marines even work on the equipment used to fix the helos.

"We repair the equipment the Marines use to fix the helos," said Staff Sgt Robert H. Reed, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, ground support equipment, MALS-16. "On ship we work on all support equipment."

MALS did not bring any of their own flightline equipment from Miramar. The equipment they use is indigenous to the ship. However, if something breaks, they are there to fix it.

"We have a great relationship with our (USS) Boxer counterparts," Reed said. "We work have worked on everything from forklifts to generators," the Ohio, native added.

After the squadrons pull off a piece or part off of the helicopter, they will decide if they can fix it. If not, the part will be brought to MALS to be fixed.

The fine Iraqi sand has posed a problem for the mammoth CH-53E Super Stallion's Engine Air Particle Separator or EAPS. Power Plants Division has been working night and day to get engines fixed and back out the squadrons.

"A lot of the sand is getting through the EAPS and into the engine and is eating away at the blades like sandpaper," said Cpl. Juan C. Aragon, 21, CH-53 engine mechanic, power plants division, MALS-16.

Inside the CH-53 engine are blades that spin at 14,000 rpm, Aragon explained. When sand gets into the engine it is almost like the inside of the engine is being sandblasted.

"Although we do desert training at CAX (Combined Arms Exercises) in Twentynine Palms, the sand there does not have the same effect as the Iraqi sand," Texas, native added.

When an engine is destroyed, the MALS Marines are prepared.

Out of the box or "can" as they call it, a new engine is pulled from their supply.

"Any component that we can salvage from the old engine is pulled and then put on the new engine," Sgt. Joel R. Williams, 23, CH-53 engine mechanic, power plants division, MALS-16.

"Once components are on, the engine is brought back to the squadron for the mechanics to put back on the helo and prepare the helo for flight," the Fla., Native said.

The CH-46E Sea Knights' EAPs are different for obvious reasons - the twin-rotor is built differently.

"The sand has not had the same effect on the CH-46 engines," said Sgt. Brandon VanAtta, 25, CH-46 engine mechanic, power plants division, MALS-16 and Oregon, native. "I think it is because the CH-46 has a different EAPs, it keeps the sand out better.

Because the CH-46 has a totally different design the engines are easier to get out and work on than the CH-53s VanAtta explained.

"Both engines are located in the back and are not as heavy as the CH-53s engines," VanAtta said. "If I had to, I could pull an engine with a two-man team and a stretcher."

He added that the engine is so light that it could be transported on a regular stretcher.

"If the sand were to find a vulnerable spot on the CH-46 it would have to be its rotors heads," explained Sgt. Kirby Carter, 26, dynamic component mechanic, power plants, MALS-16. "We have had several rotor heads in the shop to be rebuilt," the N.M., native added.

"We had extra heads, so we issued those out to the squadron to minimize the time the 46s were not flying, and then began work on the damaged ones."

Home at Miramar, or across the sea, MALS-16 Marines use whatever is available, to accomplish the mission and keep their birds in the air.

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