KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- With demands the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) places upon its aircraft, it is inevitable that components of the aircraft will require some advanced
Marine Aviation Logistics Squadrons fill a crucial space between the first echelons of aircraft maintenance and full overhauls requiring well-equipped and usually far away bases.
MALS 26 Detachment Bravo from New River with MALS-14 and MWSG 27 augments from Cherry Point are currently supporting the Aviation Combat Element of the 22d MEU(SOC), Marine Medium
Helicopter Squadron 266 (Rein), with combat operations in Afghanistan.
There are three major levels of maintenance in Marine Corps aviation. The first is the organizational level, which in this case of the 22d MEU(SOC), is done by HMM-266 (Rein). The squadron conducts repairs, which do not require a lot of support or time. The third level is the depot level, which extensively damaged or non-functioning equipment must be shipped to a base that has the facilities and infrastructure necessary the repair the part.
The MALS Detachement fills in the middle at the second level of maintenance, the intermediate level, or I-level. I-level maintenance allows the 22d MEU(SOC) to conduct repairs on site rather than having to keep sending broken components back to the United States, keeping birds in the air longer. The difference between O-level and I-level maintenance would be at
the O-level, a component would be replaced, but at the I-level, the component itself could be repaired.
"If they take something off the plane at the organizational level that they can't fix, it comes to us," said Maj. Michael Frutsche, MALS 26 Detachment B officer-in-charge. "We take a look at anything that comes off the aircraft to see if we can fix it."
The MALS Detachment can fix a lot. They are capable of repairing or Replacing parts for everything from the structural components to the electronics aboard the birds. But while their ability to keep the planes flying is not unique, the fact that they are in Afghanistan is.
"This is unusual for a MALS to be sent forward to support a MEU," said Master Sgt. Vernon Anderson, a Cambridge, Minn., native and staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Detachment B, MALS 26.
Normally, the MEU aircraft would receive most of its supply, maintenance and logistical support from the ship the squadron floated over with. However, because HMM-266 (Rein) is so far inland, the MALS Detachment was dispatched with the MEU. MALS 14 supports the fixed wing portion of the squadron, the Harriers, while MALS 26 supports the rotary wing, the helicopters. The change of venue hasn't altered the mission of the two groups.
"The only difference is we're working out of mobile facilities," said Anderson. "Our mission hasn't changed. We're here to support the grunt on the ground."
There was no shortage of volunteers to support those grunts.
"I asked to go on the boat," said Sgt. Ginger Escalante, an MALS 26 aviation supply clerk from Buffalo, N.Y. "New River was my first duty station and my only duty station."
Even though she's married with two children, the call to deploy still beckoned her. However, being away from loved ones doesn't come without cost.
"It kills me," said Escalante. "I miss them, but I feel it makes us stronger as a family. It makes you appreciate what you have. It makes you sit down and think what's important."
Others volunteered so not to be left behind in the United States.
"I didn't want to sit on the sidelines," said Lance Cpl. Daniel Richard, of Pueblo, Colo., and a microminiature repair technician for MALS 26. "I wanted to come out. I joined for some action."
The harsh climate doesn't bother Richard at all.
"It's a bit sandy and hot, but nothing I can't deal with."
With the support of the MALS Detachment, there's not much that HMM-266 (Rein) won't be able to deal with either.
In addition to HMM-266 (Rein), the 22d MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, and MEU Service Support Group 22. The unit will be in Afghanistan for an undetermined length of time conducting combat and civil military operations alongside Combined Joint Task Force 76.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.