Ace of Spades mechs rachet up mutual support in Decimomannu, Italy

4 Oct 2002 | Gunnery Sgt. Mike Dougherty

Maintenance, ordnance and avionics technicians of Helicopter Marine Medium 263's Harrier detachment forged strong alliances with their Italian counterparts of the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati, and benefited from additional support from U.S. Air Force aviation craftsmen during their 12-day stay here.

Mechanics of the Italian "Grupaer," Italy's only Harrier squadron, and those of HMM-263's Harrier detachment worked side-by-side, sharing a hangar, equipment and knowledge with technicians from the Air Force's 555th Fighter Squadron from Aviano, Italy.

While the Harrier detachment of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) brought six jets and more than 60 technicians, the Grupaer, based in Grottiglie, Italy, deployed to Sardinia with 10 jets and 40 mechanics. "We're doing what we can to help them when their resources fall short; sharing tools, equipment, information, etcetera," said Sgt. Josh Guell, a powerline crew supervisor with the MEU. "They have the same maintenance complaints we have," he added. 

The pipeline of support flowed freely in both directions. The Grupaer provided Marines with much needed ground support equipment, according to Lance Cpl. Shaun Hessen, a flighline mechanic.  The Italian squadron provided a tow tractor for moving planes, a nitrogen cart for servicing hydraulic systems and a 17-ton jack to lift additional aircraft, he said. 

Some of the biggest winners in the mutually beneficial arrangement established here were the ordnance technicians from both squadrons.  The Grupaer has four ordnance technicians, the MEU detachment, 14, said Sgt. Shawn DiMauro, an ordnance technician.  "They put in some long hours - it's amazing how few people they have keeping the squadron up," she said.  

What the Italian ordnance techs lacked in personnel, they made up for in combat experience and knowledge, however.  Most of them developed real-world skills in Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan, according to Master Chf. Giuseppe Ciriello, the squadron's ordnance/maintenance chief.

The deployment here resulted in reunions for a few of the technicians.  Like the Grupaer's pilots, their mechanics train at Fixed Wing Marine Attack Training Squadron-203 in Cherry Point, N.C.  According to Sgt. Brian Nelson, avionics night supervisor, two of the Grupaer's mechanics actually did their on-the-job training in his shop.  Sgt. Sebastiano Canella was one of them, and he was familiar with many of the detachment's Marines and was glad to be able to work with them again, he said.

Airmen of the 31st Maintenance Squadron, working in support of the 555th "Triple Nickel" (F-16 Viper) Fighter Squadron pitched in to help the Marines and the Italians streamline their maintenance procedures. One of the biggest consumers of maintenance man-hours can be the testing of oil samples gleaned from the aircraft's engines. This procedure involves shooting light through an engine oil sample to determine if there are any microscopic metal particles present.  "That can tell us if there's anything coming apart in the engine," according to Lance Cpl. John Lafferty, an airframes technician.

On the previous detatchment to Rota, Spain, Marines were required to make a daily four-hour round trip to a laboratory to submit samples for testing.  Here it's just a matter of walking across the hangar, where the Air Force can conduct the test in minutes.  Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeff Flambard, a non-destructive inspection craftsman, said he's glad to be of assistance to his Harrier counterparts from both countries.  "On this island, we've got everything we need to train pilots and fix planes, but one of the best things we have here is each other's help when we need it," he said.