U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility -- The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The shorter the line, the quicker you can travel from one end to the other. Marines working in the aircraft maintenance sections of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 (HMM-263), the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), are currently enjoying the benefits of a shorter, straighter line to their source for maintenance-essential parts.
1st Lt. Javier E. Vega from Ponce, Puerto Rico, maintenance material control officer, Maintenance Control, HMM-263, spoke of some of the challenges that face aircraft maintenance sections on float.
"The job's very intensive...very, very detail oriented. Our goal is always to have one hundred percent full mission-capable aircraft in order to successfully accomplish our ACE mission, and that mission is to provide support to the groundside of our house. The Marines on the ground, most of the time, depend on us for transportation, supplies, and close air support. So far, during this deployment we have accomplished our mission in the best way possible," said Vega.
"We have better support, supply wise, ashore due to the fact that it is easier for us to get supplies ashore than it is aboard ship," Vega added.
"Here, we need to deal with a longer turnaround time on parts. What this means is, as maintenance material control officers, our minds need to be focused on the future in order to overcome stoppage on maintenance due to lack of supplies. Our minds need to move 24/7 in order to fulfill all the operational requirements," Vega continued.
Currently, ACE maintenance sections are having an easier time getting mission essential parts than they have in recent months.
"We are so close to Bahrain, which is focused on supply...it's our main hub for supplies, so everything gets to us quicker than before. A key player for the ACE success is Senior Chief Petty Officer Henry Ramirez. (He) is in Bahrain. Another key player would be 1st Lt. Eric Walther. He's the ACE liaison supply officer," Vega said.
1st Lt. Eric J. Walther, officer in charge, Marine Aviation and Logistics Squadron 29 detachment, HMM-263, spoke about some of the service members he works with in aircraft maintenance.
"Senior Chief Ramirez and Cpl. Shane Gribbon are key players. Basically they follow us wherever we go. They went from Rota to Sigonella to Bahrain. Every part that comes to us comes through them, not just for the ACE but for the whole Amphibious Ready Group," said Walther.
"Another huge part of the equation is Command Naval Aviation Atlantic. Staff Sgt. Reginald D. Hopson works there. He's an expediter. Anything that we need, he gets for us in a timely manner. They not only support our ship but every ship that comes out," Walther added
Walther went on to speak about challenges that face supply both on float and in garrison.
"One thing about supply is that we work every day. There isn't a day off for us. Every day we have to send out a report of the status of our aircraft and parts. It makes the day go fast because you are so busy," said Walther.
"On shore it's a lot easier to get parts more quickly. Out here, because you are on the ocean, it takes a lot more communication for us to get parts. It has to go through a lot more people, plus, some of the parts have to go through customs," Walther added.
The MEU's location is a prime variable in determining resupply timelines.
Walther spoke of his role and the role of his Marines in getting the parts needed for maintenance. "My Marines do most of the laborious work. My job is to keep in touch with Command Naval Air Atlantic. I'm basically here to interact and play the liaison between the Navy and the Marines," said Walther.
"It's rewarding when you get parts in. It's a real headache when you don't because the real mission is to keep the aircraft up and running. That's the ultimate goal," said Walther.