Crew chiefs: Vital to USMC aviation

31 Jul 2014 | Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

On the ground or in the air, crew chiefs are Marine Corps aviation’s go-to personnel for their respective aircraft in the fleet.

The work, maintaining and managing the aircraft of the Marine Corps, is demanding, but rewarding, said Sgt. Daniel Fitzgerald, a UH-1Y Huey crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 and Clayton, N.C., native.

"It’s a lot of work, with long hours, but it pays off," said Fitzgerald.

Some days they are on the ground ensuring the aircraft are in top shape, other days they are in the air operating machine guns and serving as the pilot’s eyes outside of the cockpit.

Inside of a UH-1Y Huey, a pilot’s view outside of the helicopter is limited, said 1st. Lt. Alexandra Gass, a UH-1Y Huey pilot with HMLA-269 and Pittsburgh, Pa., native. Crew chiefs play a vital role in seeking threats and providing cover fire for the UH-1Y Hueys and the AH-1W Super Cobras that may accompany it.

"We work as a team," said Gass. "We know each other and trust each other. We have respect that goes both ways."

Their experience is valuable. On a recent flight of 1st Lt. Andrew Duwell’s, a UH-1Y Huey pilot with HMLA-269 and Oshkosh, Wisc., native, the crew chief’s experience exceeded that of the pilots, making his insight indispensable, said Duwell.

"You could combine our knowledge and still not have what he has for the aircraft," said Duwell. "We have another brain back there to think through a situation and another perspective on anything that can possibly come up that we can rely on."

Their knowledge stems from a laundry list of schools they attend that provide crew chiefs with the mechanical and tactical knowledge to do what it takes to manage the aircraft, said Fitzgerald. The two years of schooling include survival, evasion, resistance, and escape training as well as water survival and mechanical training.

"They are a wealth of knowledge," said Duwell.

Their duties may differ from aircraft to aircraft, but each plays a vital part in any crew.

"Marine Corps crew chiefs are all very much the same. It’s just the missions that are different," said Fitzgerald. "We all work just as hard, and each aircraft is just as demanding."

The hard work is worthwhile, said Fitzgerald. Crew chiefs acquire a technical skill and can see the big picture of the Marine Corps’ work around the world.

"It’s the greatest job in the Marine Corps," Fitzgerald added.