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South Dakota Army National Guard mechanics plays vital role in aviation support

By Spc. Kristin LichiusJune 2, 2017

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Aviation mechanics play a vital role in ensuring the safety of the National Guard's pilots and flight crews. In the South Dakota Army National Guard, it is the mechanics of the Rapid City-based Detachment 1, Company B, 935th Aviation Support Battalion, who provide high-level aviation maintenance and repair support for the aircraft and aircraft systems.

"This unit plays an absolutely critical role in aviation support," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Seth Mendel, 935th detachment commander. "What we do can't be taken lightly because we have people's lives in our hands."

Every 360-flight hours, aircraft go through a phase maintenance inspection. This involves major disassembly and inspection of critical components. Worn or damaged components are then repaired or replaced as the aircraft is put back together. This process can take up to two months to complete.

"This job is important because we ensure these aircraft are safe," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Thorson, a general mechanic with the 935th. "We want our flight crews to be confident they're safe, and that they can rely on their equipment."

The nearly 30-member detachment is made up of general, shops and avionics mechanics. Each type of mechanic specializes in inspecting and repairing different equipment and systems on HH-60M Black Hawk and UH-72 Lakota helicopters.

"We're a small, close-knit unit and are able to cross-train many of our Soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Calvin Schmidt, the detachment sergeant of the 935th. "Cross-training helps build camaraderie in the unit and gives our Soldiers a unique opportunity to learn and appreciate each other's skills."

To become a mechanic, most Soldiers spend three or more months in training, learning about the aircraft. Mechanics who specialize in working with electrical or avionics attend a longer school.

"I love this job," said Spc. Kyle Pfeifle, a general mechanic with the 935th. "Not everyone can say they get to work on Black Hawk helicopters, and the people in the unit are great."

While aircraft maintenance and repair is often a behind the scenes role, the SDARNG aviation mechanics play a big part in helping save lives by ensuring the reliability and efficiency of the Army's aircraft.

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