Ohio National Guard Staff Sgt. Erwin Gray, of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and a Company D, 1st Battalion 137th Aviation Regiment aviation mechanic, loosens a fitting on a UH-60 Black Hawk fuel hose Monday, October 12, 2009 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- The Army song said "the Army goes rolling along," but aviation mechanics here with Task Force 38 kept the Army flying along for mission success.
"If it wasn't for us they [the aircraft] wouldn't be flying at all," said Oregon National Guard Sgt. Robert Malaguti, Coos Bay, Ore., an avionics mechanic with Company D, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment.
The Soldier realized that by keeping the helicopters well maintained the mechanics helped saved lives.
"With this kind of unit if we don't keep them [the aircraft] flying, people die," said Oregon National Guard Staff Sgt. Clint Davis, Salem, Ore., a Company D quality control manager. Davis' job made sure the mechanics did theirs.
"We have caught a few mistakes, but our mechanics are pretty good," he said. "We keep our aircraft pretty clean and have a high standard."
Malaguti and fellow mechanic, Spc. Darren Bradley, reiterated the importance of a MEDEVAC mechanic's job.
"MEDEVACs, we got to keep them flying," said Malaguti.
"We're pretty crucial," said Bradley of Portland, Ore., and a Company D avionics mechanic. "We keep birds up and running, so if a MEDEVAC mission comes up, they can go."
How well they maintained the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters was noticed by others. Bill Conrad, a civilian contractor who helped maintain helicopters, has been her for 2.5 years and praised the Oregon National Guard Soldiers work.
"This is the fourth MEDEVAC unit here," he said. "These guys by far have the best maintained aircraft I've seen."
It was not only the MEDEVAC mechanics that kept Army helicopters flying, but also mechanics with 1st Battalion, 137th Aviation Regiment. Their mission was to maintain and repair helicopters for general aviation support missions. Like the MEDEVAC mechanics, the 1st Battalion mechanics realized the integral part they had for mission success.
"It's important because if we don't fix the aircraft, get it flyable, the flight companies aren't able to perform to their fullest capabilities," said Indiana National Guard Spc. Brandon Farmer, Depauw, Ind., a Company C general aviation mechanic with 1st Battalion.
And while their role within Task Force 38 was important they also received pleasure and satisfaction from doing it.
"It's a sense of pride, not every day you get to work on multi-million dollar aircraft and watch it fly away," said Farmer. "Watching something you put work and effort into fly away, you can't beat that feeling really."
His supervisor, Ohio National Guard Staff Sgt. Erwin Gray, Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and a Company D general aviation mechanic, agreed about the satisfaction from their work on the whirlybirds.
"If your heart's in it you can't help but feel something when it flies off," he said.
Another 1st Battalion Soldier spoke not only of the mechanic's role, but also more specifically Soldier within his airframe shop with Company D.
"We don't make a lot noise, but we get the job done," said Ohio National Guard Staff Sgt. Howard Wade, West Jefferson, Ohio, and airframe noncommissioned officer in charge.
"We're kind of the backbone," he said of his shop. "We get into a little bit of everything from fiberglass repair to fabrication."
Other shops within the unit include avionics, engine, prop and rotor, and general shop.
According to Ohio National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Mark W. George, Columbus, Ohio, and back shops platoon sergeant, one of the busiest shops was the prop and rotor shop.
"There's always something for them to do," said George. "Sand just eats the blades up. That's probably their number one job," he said of that shop's maintenance of Black rotor blades.
No matter what shop or what unit, the mechanics and maintenance sections were a primary concern for the task force.
"Maintenance is the center of gravity for Task Force 38," said Col. David Wood, Task Force 38 commander. "Without mechanics we simply would not be able to function and achieve operational success."
Story & photos by Staff Sgt. Jeff Lowry