Soldiers in Iraq Keep Helicopters Flying
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Mullett
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Sept. 9, 2009 Soldiers assigned here with Bravo Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion, strive to make sure the AH-64 Apaches, UH-60 Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks are prepared to take anything a war zone may have in store for them.
Soldiers of Bravo Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion, maintain a UH-60 Black Hawk at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Jones
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Our primary job is to perform all the scheduled maintenance on the CH-47, UH-60 and the AH-64,” said Army Maj. John Kilby, the company commander, a native of Rising Sun, Md. “We handle the scheduled maintenance, but sometimes we get a call from one of the [aviation unit maintenance companies] asking if we can fix something, whether it’s because they don’t have the tools, parts or people qualified to do the work.”
But the battalion’s duties are not limited to maintenance. “We help weigh aircraft and assist with accident investigations,” said Army Staff Sgt. Douglas Kephart, a technical inspector in the quality assurance shop. Kephart recalled an incident at Fort Sill, Okla., as an example of the unit’s other duties.
“Before we arrived in theater, we had a grass fire in Fort Sill,” he said. “The wind gets pretty bad. We were able to move a Chinook that was in the way, but we weren’t able to move a Black Hawk that was parked there, and it was burned pretty bad.
“The heat had buckled some of the supports and sheet metal on the side of the aircraft,” he continued. “We did the cost analysis on it to see if it was repairable.”
The 628th consists of its main group from Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.; Company C in York, Pa.; Detachment 1, Company B, from West Trenton, N.J.; and Bravo Company, 351st Aviation Support Battalion, attached out of Lowell, Mich.
“Our shop can rebuild or repair most components on all three aircraft,” Kephart said. “The shop fixes aircraft components and fabricates hydraulic hoses, and we go in and make sure everything is being done according to the manual.”
The maintenance facility here consists of a machine shop, sheet metal shop, engine shop, nondestructive testing shop, propeller and rotor shop, an armament shop for the AH-64 and an avionics shop.
The Bravo Company soldiers who were attached to the 628th ASB have been drawing on the experience of their counterparts. Kephart has been with the 628th since 1993, he said, but many of the members of the 351st are new to the military.
“Most of us had very little experience,” said Army Pvt. 1st Class Nick Gregaitus, a CH-47 mechanic from Lowell, Mich. “Most of us just graduated from [advanced individual training].”
Gregaitus will be trading rotor blades for wheels when he gets back to the United States. He will be using his experience working on Chinooks in Iraq to enhance his new job as an Army technician for the National Guard, working as a vehicle mechanic.
“I got the job before I left,” he said. “I’ll get the best of both worlds for a while.”
So far, the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade aircraft have conducted more than 12,000 hours of air operations, carried 29,000 passengers to various locations in Iraq and Kuwait and airlifted 1.3 million pounds of cargo. The Black Hawks have been conducting medical evacuation operations since December, including two major casualty airlift operations in aircraft serviced by Bravo Company.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Mullett serves with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.)