KING FAISAL AIR BASE, Jordan -- “We make it work.”
Those were the words of the Marines and Sailors with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, here as they dealt with the Spartan conditions of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s desert environment while supporting the 24th MEU during Exercise Eager Lion 12.
The Marines with VMM-261 (Reinforced), which is the Aviation Combat Element in a MEU, arrived in Jordan with a limited staff and a determination to see this exercise to the end.
Multiple units comprise the ACE as its air assets include MV-22 Ospreys, CH-53E Super Stallions, UH-1N Hueys, AH-1W Cobras, and AV-8B Harriers. During Exercise Eager Lion 12, they provided support for troop transportation and medical evacuation, and trained with the Jordanian Air Force.
Several unforeseen obstacles arose from the moment they arrived at the empty airfield they would call home during the exercise. Since the Marines arrived, they’ve spent countless hours doing routing maintenance and even swapped a whole engine on an aircraft.
“We’re working on a limited crew,” said Cpl. Anthony Rueda, 24, tiltrotor mechanic and Osprey quality assurance representative.
“The Marines who are out here with the Ospreys, every single one of us is responsible to launch, recover, clean and fix the aircraft. Anything having to do with this aircraft, top to bottom, front to back, it’s us who works on them,” said Rueda, an Edgewood, N.M., native.
The Marines with the Marine Light Attack Helicopter 269 detachment also toiled through many hours to ensure their aircraft sustained flight capabilities. They kept maintenance going 24 hours a day while launching five flights daily to support combined arms shoots and joint flight operations between the Marine AH-1W Cobra and the Jordanian AH-1F Cobra.
“Our workflow here is just like at New River but with a smaller crew,” said Gunnery Sgt. Captain B. Mullins Jr., HMLA-269 maintenance controller, which is detached from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.
Even the medical personnel have dealt with keeping everyone healthy with limited capabilities here.
“When we got here, there was literally nothing here,” said Navy Lt. Stephanie M. Bedzis, flight surgeon. “Our mission was to provide medical and tactical evacuation when we arrived. We ended up providing a trauma station in a tent with a dirt floor.”
The medical team arrived with the impression there would be a Jordanian clinic with a doctor on call. Upon arriving they learned they could not use the clinic’s services.
“We were told there would be some kind of medical out here,” said Bedzis. “It’s not that we didn’t have what we needed, we just didn’t think it’d be this minimal.”
The Marines and Sailors even treated the locals.
“We have provided basic medical (aid) to the Jordanians and our own troops from the time we arrived,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Julian Guidry, hospital corpsman.
The medical team, under the guidance of Bedzis, overcame those initial difficulties to establish a functioning medical room along with a sick call clinic at the barracks.
“We practiced real field medicine here,” said Bedzis.
The Marines and Sailors also arrived without any electronic diversions like laptops, e-readers or MP3 players.
The Marines instead quested to find their own entertainment from scrap littered across the airfield. They created hacky sacks, a volleyball net, a field shower and even a monopoly board with dice and playing pieces carved from rocks.
“These guys use a lot of ingenuity,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Harrison, 28, airframes division chief and a Myrtle Beach, S.C., native. “They built so many things since we got here. The gunny had a Popular Mechanics magazine with an article on how to build a tripod chair. I asked my guys if they could do it. They said ‘yeah’ and went out and built them. Now we have foldout camping chairs.”
In the face of hardship, the ACE pushed their Marines to find equilibrium with the morale and the missions of the MEU. The birds have to fly and the Marines need to stay motivated to make that happen.
It’s a “balancing act” keeping everybody happy. The maintainers want to ensure the aircraft are safe and ready to go, the pilots want to fly, and the command needs to accomplish the mission, according to
Gunnery Sgt. Jason Warren, maintenance control chief.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the safety of the crew,” said Warren. “It makes some people mad when we decide an aircraft can’t fly. But we have to make that call if we feel an aircraft is not safe to fly.”
Making it work has enabled the ACE to support the flights and bilateral training during Exercise Eager Lion 12. Despite the obstacles and short supply, the Marines and Sailors say they will make it work to the end.
The 24th MEU is scheduled to continue with multilateral training throughout the month of May at Exercise Eager Lion 12, which is designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships through a joint, whole-of-government, multinational approach to future complex national security challenges.