Monday, August 31, 2009

Keep Them Flying (by Ben Shaw)

*Reprinted with permission from the Fluvanna Review.

*Retold with permission.

When the weather’s bad out here, the choppers don’t fly, nothing breaks, so we don’t have anything to fix.  It’s nice for a little while, since we like a break every now and then, but it gets boring quickly.  I like fixing things.  It’s what I joined to do.  So as far as I’m concerned, get those birds back in the air.  It’s why we’re here – to make them fly.

I can’t remember the exact dates, but some of the components on these aircraft date back to the tail end of the Vietnam War.  For all I know, some of the airframes were over there, and maybe over here back in Desert Storm.  We’re the last unit to get all the equipment upgrades, so we may have the oldest fleet of helicopters in the entire Army.  The 58s may be the slowest chopper out there right now, but everything still works well.  I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise, either.  After more than 30 years in service, they have the kinks worked out on the systems.  In fact, our fleet has the easiest maintenance schedule of all the rotor wings out there.

Our job is pretty straightforward.  We keep the helos airborne.  That’s it.  If something’s wrong with the radios, we fix them.  If the parts wear out, we replace them.  If they get shot up and need the skin repaired, we fix it or put on a new panel.  We even maintain the weapons systems, too.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as scrubbing a little dirt out of a rocket tube.  Other times, it’s dismantling an entire machine gun and getting it back online.  Whatever needs work, we take care of it.

What’s humorous, however, is that the electronics are antiquated.  The newest computer technology still dates back to the early 90s.  If they actually updated it, something like an iPhone could handle all the computations.  But that’s not how it works with military equipment.  If it ain’t broke, they don’t fix it, and they don’t upgrade it either.  It makes sense, but it does mean the aircraft are weighed down with heavy systems.  Eventually they’ll upgrade, I guess.

It’s different for us, being aircraft mechanics.  I’ve been here almost eight months, and I’ve only left the FOB [forward operating base] once.  The rest of the time, I’m here.  It has its perks.

For one, everybody’s wife, girlfriend and family is happy that we’re relatively safe.  We only get the occasional mortar or rocket around here, but that’s about it.  We don’t have outrageous schedules, either.  My shift come to work in the morning, fixes or maintains whatever needs attention, and then we head back to our trailers, to air conditioning, and either get on the computer or play video games.  So long as the job gets done, we’re off.  When we leave, another crew comes on to relieve us.

Nobody has ever suggested that I’m not doing my part out here, but if they do, I already have an answer for them.  It’s remarkably easy.

Everybody out here has a mission.  For the infantry, it’s go kick in doors, operate outside the wire, and kill the enemy.  That’s essential.  Whenever they’re in trouble, or they need any sort of medevac or aerial reconnaissance, the pilots are up there talking them onto targets, chasing down cars, providing heavy firepower, or flying out the casualties.  I know for certain that they appreciate that last one.

We’re the ones that keep those pilots in the sky.  If the birds didn’t work, they couldn’t fly.  We’re not out killing the enemy, but we’re enabling the guys on the ground to do it – and as safely as possible.  I can’t count the number of times that we’ve bailed them out.

The whole Army is like that.  Everybody has their job, and everybody’s job is essential to somebody else.  The mechanics make sure the trucks run, the supply guys make sure the ammo gets to the legs [infantry], the cooks feed all of us, the comm guys keep everybody talking, and so on.  Everybody has a job out here, and at some level, we’re all reliant on each other.  If it doesn’t have a purpose, it’s not in the Army. 

People sometimes think that the only thing we do out here is run around with guns and shoot things, but it’s more complex than that.  For every one guy outside the wire, there are probably more than ten that get him there, keep him there, and keep him fed, safe, and supported.  We’re still out here fighting the war, just not in the sense that people typically think about.  But it doesn’t matter.  They need us, we need them, and before long we’ll win it and go home.  I like my part in all of it, and I intend to stick around.

Copyright © 2009, Fluvanna Review, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. This guy has an understanding of his role in the system. I say Bravo! He is every bit as important as the guy who is kicking in a door...albeit not as likely to be killed.