Tripled Air Traffic Doesn't Faze Fix-it Crews
By Pfc. Chrishaun Peeler, USA
American Forces Press Service
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Dec. 9, 1998 The maintenance section of Company D, 228th Aviation Regiment, knows its helicopters, and because of Hurricane Mitch last month has been servicing any rotorcraft that touches down, from UH-60 Black Hawks to CH-47 Chinooks.
"We support anybody that comes here or anybody that asks for help," said Staff Sgt. Larry Dees, an avionics technician. "We can do it all. If there's a job that needs to be done, it will get done."
Company D's maintenance section consists of six shops, each responsible for certain aircraft parts and systems -- sheet metal, engine, hydraulics, avionics and electrical, props and rotors, and technical supply.
The rotor shop maintains the blades, masts and everything else in an aircraft's main and tail rotor systems. Avionics keeps communications and electrical systems working properly. Hydraulics experts specialize in flight controls. Engine teams can tear apart a power plant completely and rebuild it in a matter of days. Sheet metal workers care for the aircraft's structural members and outer skin. Tech supply is the section's parts department.
"Everything that comes to us gets fixed here," added Dees. We don't have to send it to our headquarters in Panama, because we can do anything they can do. That helps the Army save time and money and keeps aircraft flying.
"We have a lot more work now because we're flying more," said Sgt. Gary Slaughter, a sheet metal repair specialist. "More aircraft were brought here to help with the relief mission, and we're supporting them, too."
The 228th's flying time has increased to over 100 hours a week, well up from a pre-Mitch level of about 30. Every hour of flight time means five hours of shop work to ensure coontinued operational readiness, said Chief Warrant Officer Preston Lewis, a production control officer. As aircraft reach certain hour requirements, he said, they're stripped, and every part is serviced or replaced, as needed.
Because the maintenance section is the only complete one around, it's been working on airlifters called in from the XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C. It supports aircraft flying missions in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
"Our workload has more than doubled," said Sgt. Robert Mays, a supply sergeant. "We are ordering parts for more than 25 aircraft. Before, we only had 11 aircraft to supply. Sometimes we're working all day and night."
Spc. Faustino Briseno, a power train repair specialist, said he doesn't mind the increased workload, because it's for a good cause. "So many people are down on their luck," he said. "It feels great to be lending a hand to help the Hondurans get their country back together. We're all working together to make that happen."
"We just fit together, just like the parts of a helicopter," said Dees. "We have a reputation for getting the job done."
"When something is wrong, there is somebody out there almost immediately," Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Walker, a Black Hawk pilot. "With the long hours and days they've been working, the quality of maintenance isn't slacking. They're professionals. They know their job and do it well."
"That's what we are here for," Slaughter said. "We'll support anybody that needs our help and stand behind our work 100 percent."
[Pfc. Chrishaun Peeler, assigned to the 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C., is a member of the U.S. military relief mission in Honduras.]