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24th MEU's ACE keeps Thunder Chickens flying

10 Aug 2004 | Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Beavers 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The thundering rhythm of a helicopter's rotor blades reveals little about the effort it takes to get such a complicated machine off the ground.

Yet, behind every modern marvel in the inventory of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Aviation Combat Element, there is a Marine mechanic ensuring the aircraft will be capable of accomplishing its missions.

"Our different shops come together to form one big team," said Cpl. Renato Pinto, 22, a native of Altamonte Springs, Fla., and flight-line mechanic with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, nicknamed the "Thunder Chickens." "The flight-line mechanics do all of the hard wrench turning. We [perform] all the inspections, taxi and launch the [aircraft]. But we also have specialists for [work like] the airframes and electric wiring."

Each mechanic can expect no less than a 12-hour work day, combating a number of different complications in operational performance, some of which have become prevalent in the Iraqi environment.

"One of the main problems we have is getting sand in the engines," said Pinto. "Since it causes erosion, we have to wash the aircraft and engine every four to seven days."

But there's one thing the mechanics don't have to worry about thanks to the desert's lack of humidity: corrosion. This avoids hours of time spent removing the substance from vital areas of the aircrafts.

Although the work requires him to be meticulous, for Lance Cpl. Scott Atwood, 20, a flight line mechanic from Bridgewater, Mass., this deployment is something he'll always have. 

"Twenty years down the line, you won't be talking about college," said Atwood. "This is something you're going to remember."

For others who volunteered to return to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III, the opportunity to be involved in real-world combat is all the gratification they need.

"There's no experience like working on an aircraft in the field," said Pinto. "The missions we do here are real. This [opportunity] is what we've trained for."