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American Forces Press Service

'Gunfighters' Keep Apache Helicopters Flying in Iraq

By Maj. Enrique T. Vasquez, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq, Dec. 19, 2007 – In today’s world of technologically advanced aviation, Army pilots alone cannot keep AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters operational without ground crews.

Sustaining the intricate workings of digital and complex avionics requires proficient ground crews and technical personnel. Soldiers of 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, known as the Gunfighters, work diligently around the clock maintaining, testing and sustaining the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division’s battalion of Apache attack and reconnaissance gunships in northern Iraq.

Preventive maintenance is a major facet of success for the Apache ground crews, officials said.

“We do preventive maintenance services, which is a basic teardown of the aircraft, checking for common things that are broken,” said Army Spc. Jedediah Cooke, an Apache crew chief with the battalion’s Company C. “In addition, we do 50-hour inspections to check out the major flight controls.”

Not all the work the ground crews perform on the Apaches is routine or scheduled.

“If aircraft were to come back (from a combat sortie) with possible flaws or a deficiency, it is our mission to ensure maintenance is conducted and aircraft are repaired, put back in the air and remain flyable at all times,” said Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Ruiz, maintenance platoon sergeant with Company C.

“As the platoon sergeant, I oversee maintenance on the flight line. I have my crew (mechanic section) along with the armament section that I utilize. When aircraft return broken in any way, I go ahead and look at the aircraft, and take a look at the fault the pilots give me,” Ruiz said.

“I go ahead and hand it out or delegate the fault to the back shops so they are repaired in a timely manner. There are a lot of eyes looking at the aircraft. There is the soldier, the supervisor and the technical inspector,” Ruiz said.

“Everybody takes this job really serious because you want to do the best you can; you don’t want any birds going down, especially out there during a mission,” said Army Spc. Christopher Lara, an Apache repair mechanic with Company C.

“We are supporting ground units in northern Iraq, providing coverage from the air. It makes you feel good, (because) without air support, the ground troops would not have that (added protection),” Lara said.

Cooke said he also takes pride in his job. He knows if an Apache takes off from the tarmac, it is heading out to support American, Iraqi and coalition forces.

“I think I do help those guys out there kicking in doors. I have been told by infantrymen that they love to see these aircraft fly over. This is why we work as hard as we can,” said Sgt. Chris Martin, another Apache repair mechanic with Company C.

Pilots appreciate the hard work that goes into a stringent aircraft maintenance program.

“These guys are working on $30 million aircraft. They keep track of numerous moving pieces, working six days a week, sometimes even working on their days off. It is very impressive to see what they do on a daily basis,” said Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Thompson, a maintenance test pilot with Company C.

Teamwork and everybody knowing their job also contribute to the complete aircrafts’ safety and effectiveness.

“When aircraft land, they may have avionics or electrical problems, and there are separate shops to deal with each; we also work with production control,” Martin said. “I trust armament, and I trust my shops.”

“Depending what the maintenance issue is, we are out there working with the armament section. They know their job, and they want us helping them, and we are out there getting them what they need,” Lara said. “Everybody knows their jobs. … It all works together, and it ensures we all know what it takes to keep the birds flying.”

(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)

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