Flightline shop on the move
The “color bird” of HMM-262, the Flying Tigers
Sgt Armstrong, H-1 Mechanic
Tail and Rotor Head
Avionicsman working under Cobra
A “Phrog” and a “Shitter”
This was supposed to work out much better… I was trying to ‘hold’ the CH-53 in my hands like a platter
Stanley supporting a CH-46 by his index finger
Well, after a long and arduous process of rebuilding the aircraft after being transported halfway around the world our unit finally had two helicopters turn-up for check flights on the same day. The anticipation of all the maintenance personnel was palpable, especially after weeks of busting our knuckles fixing CH-53’s that had not flown or moved since we arrived.
Troubleshooting an engine
Watching from the shade
Crew Chief, SSgt Jones, ready to turn-up
I always think of that dumb song when I have to work a weekend. Thanks to Cody Mitchell for that, he would always play the song on the shop radio back in HMH-363’s Flightline shop in Hawaii when there was even the remote chance we might have to work that weekend. Play time was over here, though. We had our fun and our helicopters still needed a lot of work before we could start flying, including some nonsense like pedal popping and full rigs. Honestly, I expected to work a majority of the weekends so having to only do 3 or 4 so far is not bad.
One of several uncomfortable positions mechanics assume during Full Rigs
The Sergeant Major on the prowl
Pushing a several-hundred-pound rollaway toolbox
The start of a job
Discussing Staff NCO things
Finally got our ‘det’ squadron patch for HMH-772(-) Rein. We had to incorporate the important elements of 1) being in Japan, and 2) being a mixed CH-53 and Cobra squadron. It was designed by our very own Flightline Marine, Tristan Clinger.
CH-53E Super Stallion and AH-1W Cobra in foreground, island of Okinawa in front of rising sun theme (black and red, colors of our Cobra guys from HMLA-167). The sun even has a crack in it like the Liberty Bell on the regular 772 logo
As an example, the standard HMH-772(-) squadron logo
The Cobra detachment that combined with us, from 167
Not that I cared to wear it, but they had shoulder patches made. I guess shoulder patched are bigger with Huey and Cobra units than the rest of the Marine Corps helicopter community. Most of the Cobra guys arrived wearing the 167 shoulder patch “Have Guns Will Travel”. Somebody here bastardized it to reflect our combined unit with 53’s in front of the Cobras, of course.
The basis for the deployment shoulder patch
Like the rest of America, we celebrated the Fourth of July with beer, barbecue, the outdoors, and swimming. Once again we had the whole 15 person Flightline shop come together for this. Our little slice of America discovered Kadena Marina for the first time and loved it. Can you believe it, the Air Force base here actually owns the beach. Which is fine, all Americans and Okinawans can use it but the Marines never have any nice pieces of real estate, we get the scraps. Enough ranting on my part, I think everyone had a good time. Even got to jump off of the small rocky island that sits in the middle of the marina. Happy Birthday America.
McClernon and Stanley high five
Spontaneous Volleyball game
Keep flexing Gunny….it still doesn’t make your gut go away
One of the only pictures where I’m actually on the other side of the lens
Nothing like sitting in the grass on a warm evening sipping on a beer
Two swimmers at dark
SSgt. Hensley, Airframes, showing his enthusiasm for the camera
I think a CH-53E is an authorized vehicle…
Morning maintenance meeting
The giant Cicada that tried to eat Chad Jones
The ubiquitous Japanese coffee and drink vending machines. There is never one more than 50 feet away.
As a mixed squadron/composite squadron, whatever you want to call it, we are half CH-53’s and half AH-1 Cobras. My picture taking during work has predominantly been spent on the Super Stallions, so I decided I should show some of our ‘little brothers’ too.
SSgt Garcia, Airframes
Progress to be made
Birds’ eye view
This green container and concrete barrier is essentially the Flightline shop
Flightline about to leave work
The first week of hectic maintenance brought with it a good introduction to fixing planes in the humid conditions coupled with the lack of logistical support. I felt as if we were better equipped in the remote wasteland of Afghanistan than we are in Okinawa, at an air station that has had helicopters for decades. The simple explanation is — the base was not ready for us: no hangar, scavenging support equipment, and almost everyone spending the entire day outside. I would be tempted to say I’d choose Afghanistan any day over this, as far as working conditions went.
We went ahead anyway and charged headfirst into rebuilding the first helicopter after it stood ‘broken down’ after C-5 transport.
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea lies the island of Okinawa. The tropical Japanese Isle is more than 400 miles from the southernmost part of mainland Japan. The similarity I gradually noticed here is that Okinawa is to Japan as Hawaii or Puerto Rico is to the U.S. These two islands — while definitely still America — have their own distinct flavor and island people’s culture. Okinawa admittedly is not as modern and flashy as the rest of Japan, it is kind of like the neglected stepchild despite the huge numbers of tourists from mainland Japan that are visible everywhere.
After 11 or so days, I finally arrived. The humid air assaulted me the moment I stepped off the C-5 into the open air. Flashbacks to Hawaii have been frequent with both the weather and scenery, though Okinawa definitely wins in a contest over which island is hotter. Within a minute or two, it is possible to go from bone dry clothing to completely soaked.
Now that I’ve caught up to when I first got here, I have a lot of work to do to fill in the gaps in the two months since.
While also sunny and warm, this wasn’t quite our final destination of Okinawa. The photos presented here depict how we had to unload our two CH-53’s out of the Air Force plane since it was “broken”. Shortly after the three hour offload was completed, they were magically fixed and headed back to Texas the next day. We spent 4 full days in Northern California just outside of Travis Air Force base. The eight of us were mostly relegated to staying at the hotel since we did not have a vehicle. On one day when we didn’t have to go to the base at all, Longbine and I took a train to San Francisco. We didn’t really know where to go, so our site seeing was limited to long walks up the steep streets with stops at 5 or 6 bars during the day. I had to talk him in to at least walking past Chinatown so I could catch a glimpse of it.
Offloading the Main Gearbox with attached Rotor Head
Close up of a tie-down chain
Enjoy the oil we spilt…suckers
After 5 days we finally left Alaska, including one aborted flight the day before when we had to turn around in flight after 20 minutes. Our little group was more than ready to leave the area after so many days stuck in base lodging and hotel rooms in Anchorage. During our 2nd day here, the main body of our squadron det with 70 people came, spent less that a day here, and left. We enjoyed ourselves at many of Anchorage’s bars, and I left a record of our presence by slapping many an HMH-772 sticker around town, but I wanted to get to Okinawa.
Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. The Air Force C-5 still had lingering issues so the crew decided to fly south to Travis Air Force Base, California, to get better support.
Boarding the C-5
Arrived at Elmendorf, Alaska sometime around 1 in the morning. That was the only time the sky was actually dark, and even then, it was kind of like a pre-dawn twilight and the horizon was still visible. The sun began to rise at around 2 or 2:30. We were only supposed to be here for one night, but we wound up staying here for 5 or 6 days.
Sunrise over Elmendorf Air Force Base
Stinsky and Trowbridge trying to capture the colorful dawn
No room for us on base anymore, making the mile-long hike to check out of our rooms — and alert for any bears roaming around the base
Got lucky (or as I later found out, unlucky) to leave a day prior to the rest of the squadron detachment with a very small number of people, since we were taking a heavier cargo of helicopters onto the transport plane. There was only 8 of us total: 2 from Avionics (Wooner and Labrador) and 3 each from Airframes (Trowbridge, Stinksy, and SSgt Hensley) and Flightline (myself, Barnes, and Gunny Longbine).
Once we got nice and sweaty waiting to get on the C-5, we ran around some more in the cargo bay checking the tie-down security of our 2 CH-53s, then sat down to icy air conditioning. Hensley provided me with a sleeping pill while we were waiting to take-off, and the next thing I know, I wake up a few hours into the flight. Apparently, as the C-5 was taxiing to the runway, I was carrying on a conversation with Hensley and Gunny Longbine and then I was quiet for a minute so they looked over to find me slumped over in my seat, out cold.
Wooner, waiting, in the Passenger Terminal
The Airframes contingent: Trowbridge (in the foreground), Hensley and Stinsky
Time passes slow waiting in the dim light
Longbine and Hensley with “RJ”, one of the Air Force loadmasters
While I’ve only just gotten this site running, it is already 2 months into my deployment. Instead of starting in the present, I feel I must start this like some good books do and purposely go back in time to show how everything started.
May 29, 2013
Game of Spades in the Flightline shop.
Spent everyday leading up to the departure working. Wouldn’t have it any other way, really; it’s boring sitting in a hotel-esque room with bags packed and nothing to do. I stayed at work in our shop for a little while since we kept hearing our Air Force C-5 transport plane would be delayed, so I shot a picture of a couple of the guys playing Spades. I choose to not include their upper bodies in the picture and shoot in B&W because I felt this is a timeless kind of moment — servicemen passing idle time with card games in-between hard work.