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Guard unit keeps cargo helicopters on the move

By Spc. Claudia K. Bullard

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan(Army News Service, Jan. 21, 2005) -- Near the flight line at Kandahar Air Field, the main operating base for Afghanistan's Southeast region, Capt. David Crenshaw, executive and maintenance officer for F Co., 131st Aviation, observes mechanics repairing a leaky starter in the engine of one of fourteen CH-47s his unit flies and maintains.

Across the air field the late-afternoon sun bathes the battered hangar that houses F. Co. in a golden glow. Large pieces of the hangar's outer skin are missing. The remaining sheet metal is pockmarked with bullet holes --signs of the intense fighting that took place in 2002 between Coalition and Taliban forces.

The CH-47s, known better as Chinooks by U.S. Army personnel, are powerful, double-rotored machines capable of carrying 25,000-pound loads of equipment and troops into combat. It is not uncommon to see these birds hoisting a humvee or generator sling-loaded underneath the chopper for transport to the field. Commanders in Southeastern Afghanistan depend heavily on Chinooks to get troops and supplies to forward operating bases; therefore 131st Aviation's mission to keep these birds flying is vital to the war effort in southern Afghanistan.

Chinooks are the link between the FOBs and their base of supplies at Kandahar. Without the air support the Chinooks provide, personnel and supplies would have to be moved on the ground through some of the most rugged terrain in the world to reach those who need them.

Crenshaw and his crew of some 80 mechanics, pilots, crewmen and logistics personnel know how important their mission is. They are running a 24-hour operation that hasn't slowed since their arrival in March. Currently the unit has logged nearly 6,000 hours of flight time and has carried more than 37,000 passengers.

Indicating a patch on his uniform, Crenshaw says it represents what the 131st is all about. Embroidered on the patch is the country of Afghanistan with a Chinook hovering above it. A Georgia flag, an Alabama flag and a Washington apple represent personnel from the three states coming together to accomplish a very important mission.

"Because of resources, because the unit is spread out," said Crenshaw of 131st Aviation's personnel, "it is very rare that they train together." Crenshaw said that despite this fact members--who range from Vietnam veterans to Soldiers experiencing their first time away from home--came together very quickly.

These particular Chinooks are not 131st Aviation's regular aircraft but were left here by the former unit.

"When we fell in on these Chinooks there were a lot of deficiencies," said Crenshaw who compared the process of aircraft repair to how an individual might take care of his personal vehicle. "There is yourself, a shop and a dealer," said Crenshaw.

The unit's mechanics repair and maintain almost everything on the Chinooks. If a repair falls under a higher level of maintenance which is not authorized for 131st, mechanics at an intermediate level are consulted who determine if the problem can be fixed at KAF or must be sent off to a repair depot at Kuwait. Rarely is the manufacturer consulted.

Crenshaw said even though his mechanics are very thorough there are problems with a Chinook that may not necessarily ground the aircraft.

"We register deficiencies in a logbook and then determine whether the deficiencies are critical or non-critical," said Crenshaw. "Critical deficiencies are repaired first. Non-critical deficiencies are prioritized according to short-term or long-term depending on parts needed or work that needs to be performed," said Crenshaw.

Finally because of the nature of 131st Aviation's mission, Crenshaw's personnel undergo a strict evaluation" of their job performance. Crenshaw said everyone must be willing to take advice and criticism to maintain high standards of safety and performance. "If we have problems we find creative ways to solve problems or find a job they are better suited for."

"The positive thing about the National Guard," said Crenshaw, "is that members know each other over a wide period of time creating cohesiveness and continuity."

(Editors note: Spc. Claudia Snow writes for the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

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