CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait --
Before sunrise, the air on the flight line is cool and as silent as a boot camp parade deck in mid-afternoon. The only sound is the muffled chatter among Marines changing shifts as the day crew takes over.
The Mechanics of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (reinforced) here aboard Camp Buehring, Kuwait, have been dealing with many new maintenance issues lately, since leaving the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3).
PLAYING IN THE SANDBOX
With the change in temperature has come a complete change in environment. The Marines have traveled from and endless horizon of rolling waves to one of rolling dunes. The afternoon winds, and helicopters alike, blow clouds of what the Marines have taken to calling"moon dust." The clouds of fine grit can even block the sun.
"We have parts that go bad more often because of the sand,"said CH-46E Sea Knight Crew Chief Staff Sgt. George D. Hughes, of Franklin, N.C. "Out here in this environment, sand getting into everything causes a lot more parts to go bad, therefore creating more maintenance for us to do."
In this terrain, aptly called the"sand box" by its military residents, sand permeates every nook, cranny, crack, and crevice.
"A lot of the hydraulics fill up with sand, it definitely gets into the system that moves the wheels,"said Hughes. "A lot of the seals on our rotor heads go bad because of the heat and the sand, so we have a lot of problems with those seals."
The Marines have been battling the rough environment with a little extra hard work and a bit of soap, said Hughes.
"We have to keep an extra good eye on our engines because we have a lot of sand going through them,"said Hughes. "We haven't had to replace any yet, but we've definitely been keeping a better eye on them and cleaning them more often."
WORKING AT THE"CARWASH"
The wash rack lies next to the flight line, and in the early afternoon it is an immensely popular place to work. The Marines use its many scrub brushes, air compressors and soaps to scrub aircraft to a sparkling shine.
"This is actually kind of cool,"said Private First Class Christopher B. Palumbo, a CH-46E mechanic from New York. "It's hot, really hot, and we're out here washing the aircraft staying cool. I'd rather be doing this than out there being hot and sweaty," he said pointing to the nearby expanse of black pavement. "If you let them get dirty, eventually they'll be useless. Just like you clean your car at home, we clean our aircraft."
Mid-day temperatures reached blistering heats when the sun, black pavement, and engine heat combined, but few Marines seemed to mind.
"We make the best with what we've got,"said Palumbo. "I'd say it's better than being on ship. I can walk 50 ft. in one direction without having to turn around and go the other way"
SANDBOX VS. OCEAN
Though the Marines have recently been battling the hot and dirty environment, the ocean brought its own set of challenges.
"Out here it's dry with a dry heat, and on ship it's humid but you also have salt,"said Palumbo. "We had salt deposits that collected all over the aircraft, and salt is a bad corrosive. We have to do double the corrosion prevention maintenance that we're doing right now on the boat because the salt will eat away the metal if you leave it on there."
Salt is a corrosive problem for the maintenance crews, and the lack of space and many rules don't make the job any easier.
"It's better out here, because we don't have to wait on the boat,"said Hughes. "There's more space, and you don't have to wait when you want to launch or test a plane. You don't have to wait on the boat to measure the winds. You don't have to wait on the Harriers to launch. If you want to do something on the helicopter like ground turn it to test something small, you can do it no problem. It's a lot easier out here."
Though the quality of life is better on land than aboard a floating airbase, the maintenance issue is a dead heat. The dust causes more cleaning and more maintenance, but the salt is also bad. Either way, ACE Marines will change parts and bust rust on any flight line.
"They're two different animals,"said Hughes. "When you're on the boat, you have to deal with the stuff on the boat, and when you're out here, you have to deal with the stuff here. What we have to deal with depends on where we're at, and we'll deal with it when we get there."
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is currently on a scheduled deployment serving as the theater reserve for the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. It consists of its Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (reinforced); Command Element; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; and its Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22. To learn more about the 22nd MEU (SOC) visit the unit's Web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.