PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- As Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion 8th Marine regiment conduct day and night patrols down narrow roads and alleyways shaped by shanty towns, makeshift buildings and refuse in an effort to bring safety and security here, there’s a force more often heard than seen that watches over them.
The eye in the sky or air combat element comprised of Marines and sailors from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron - 269 out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. and Marine Wing Support Squadron - 274 out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. provide troops on the ground a unique and essential perspective of their areas of operation.
“The standoff surveillance and reconnaissance provided [by the UH-1 Huey ] within this environment is hard to do with standard assets.” said Col. Mark Gurganus, commander of Marine Air Ground Task Force - 8.
This is because the Huey’s versatility and advanced imaging systems allow pilots and crew to see where others may not.
“[The air crewmen] can see the patrol, buildings, windows, people and vehicles entering the patrols area before they get there,” Gurganus explained.
The ability to see into areas ground troops normally can’t, or the “third dimension” as Gurganus refers to it, has played a vital role in the MAGTF’s success here.
“Imaging capabilities allow us to see everything; around corners, down city blocks. We can ensure that there are no surprises for the Marines on patrol, ” said Maj. John A. Ostrowski, Huey pilot with HMLA-269.
The Hueys that provide a watchful eye over the patrols also have a psychological effect on the city’s civilians as well as the thugs and criminals who pose a potential threat.
“The sound [of the rotor blades] has become a sound of comfort to the majority of the population here and a sound to fear for the bad guys,” said Gurganus.
Knowing that support is just seconds away carries a lot of weight with the Marines conducting the patrols as well according to Sgt. Daniel S. Standridge, a section leader with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment.
“The Hueys are one of the biggest assets we have here,” said the Sheridan, AK native, “When you get in a bind they are there to get you out, whether it’s by giving us directions or providing a medevac. It‘s reassuring knowing they are there.”
Providing this unique perspective requires more than a pilot and his crew according to Ostrowski.
The ACE is comprised of Marines with various specialties that keep the aircraft flying, to include aviation mechanics, refuelers, flight line crews and weather forecasters. All of them play a vital role in supporting the Marines on the ground.
“Without fuel the birds can’t fly,” said Lance Cpl. Bradd J. Sendele, bulk fueler, from Rockford, Ill., with Marine Wing Support Squadron-274.
The outstanding support is a hard fact that Ostrowski says is evident everyday.
“I can’t fly a single mission without the help of the support element. They provide the fuel, the water, the logistics, everything that is required to get the mission accomplished,” Ostrowski explained.
Keeping the Hueys in the air requires between five to ten hours of maintenance for every hour of flight time. With thousands of mechanical and electronic parts, all with a limited life span, maintenance crews are constantly repairing or servicing the aircraft.
“The mechanics we have are very flexible. At any given time, the bird needs to be ready to support a mission. It could be in the middle of the day or the middle of the night,” said Staff Sgt. Craig J. Swanton, maintenance control chief , from Butler, Pa.
When the ACE arrived more than a month ago, they brought with them all the personnel needed to be self sufficient. Like most other commands within the Corps, the ACE has personnel that manage the daily operations of the unit.
“We have admin, intelligence, supply and medical personnel that keep the unit going, ” Ostrowski explained.
Providing support to the MAGTF has kept the Marines here busy. They have flown nearly 90 missions and accumulated nearly 130 flight hours since their arrival here.
The hard work and dedication of the Marines in the ACE has been worth its weight in gold according to Gurganus, who said their efforts have been a major contributor to the success of the Marines here.
“The Hueys have become like our guardian angels above, and the capabilities that they bring with them have made them uniquely qualified for the mission here.” Gurganus explained.