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An MV-22 Osprey maintenance team poses at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, earlier this month while preparing for a long-range raid as part of Exercise Blue Chromite 2017. From left to right are: Cpl. Tyler Simon, Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy, Private 1st Class Eilis Flaherty and Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan.

An MV-22 Osprey maintenance team poses at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, earlier this month while preparing for a long-range raid as part of Exercise Blue Chromite 2017. From left to right are: Cpl. Tyler Simon, Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy, Private 1st Class Eilis Flaherty and Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Strip)

An MV-22 Osprey maintenance team poses at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, earlier this month while preparing for a long-range raid as part of Exercise Blue Chromite 2017. From left to right are: Cpl. Tyler Simon, Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy, Private 1st Class Eilis Flaherty and Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan.

An MV-22 Osprey maintenance team poses at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, earlier this month while preparing for a long-range raid as part of Exercise Blue Chromite 2017. From left to right are: Cpl. Tyler Simon, Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy, Private 1st Class Eilis Flaherty and Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Strip)

Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan, a Marine Aircraft Group 36 MV-22 Osprey mechanic from Oklahoma, opens a panel on one of the tilt-rotor aircraft while performing maintenance at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Nov. 3, 2016.

Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan, a Marine Aircraft Group 36 MV-22 Osprey mechanic from Oklahoma, opens a panel on one of the tilt-rotor aircraft while performing maintenance at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Nov. 3, 2016. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Strip)

Marine Cpl. Tyler Simon watches his team members intently as they perform maintenance on an MV-22 Osprey helicopter at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Nov. 3, 2016. The Missouri native and his fellow Marines worked to get the helicopters ready ahead of a long-range raid by infantry from the 3rd Marine Division the following day.

Marine Cpl. Tyler Simon watches his team members intently as they perform maintenance on an MV-22 Osprey helicopter at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Nov. 3, 2016. The Missouri native and his fellow Marines worked to get the helicopters ready ahead of a long-range raid by infantry from the 3rd Marine Division the following day. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Strip)

Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy grabs a tool for a teammate as they perform maintenance on an MV-22 Osprey at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Nov. 3, 2016. The maintainers have one of the most important, but largely unheralded, jobs in the Pacific.

Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy grabs a tool for a teammate as they perform maintenance on an MV-22 Osprey at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Nov. 3, 2016. The maintainers have one of the most important, but largely unheralded, jobs in the Pacific. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Strip)

Marines from the 3rd Marine Division embark on MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for a long-range raid as part of Exercise Blue Chromite 2017, Nov. 4, 2016. The Osprey took them from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, to just outside Tokyo and back again. The raid went off without a hitch thanks in large part to Marine Aircraft Group 36 maintenance personnel who keep the Osprey running safely.

Marines from the 3rd Marine Division embark on MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for a long-range raid as part of Exercise Blue Chromite 2017, Nov. 4, 2016. The Osprey took them from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, to just outside Tokyo and back again. The raid went off without a hitch thanks in large part to Marine Aircraft Group 36 maintenance personnel who keep the Osprey running safely. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Strip)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — Tyler Simon spends his nights assessing risks as a day trader, and he’s pretty good at it. The Marine corporal is even better at his day job, which is all about avoiding risks.

Simon, 30, is one of about 170 aircraft maintainers from Marine Aircraft Group 36. He and the other members of his team from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 — Lance Cpl. Eric Brundy, Pvt. 1st Class Eilis Flaherty and Lance Cpl. Taegen Todd Duncan — have an important yet largely unheralded job maintaining MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Navy ships in the Pacific.

Not only are they responsible for safeguarding the lives of their fellow Marines and their nearly around-the-clock flights, they also hold the political sensitivities of the Japanese people in their calloused hands.

Simon, like every MAG-36 mechanic, knows that just one mistake could mean a loss of life or a surge in protests on the island, where a small-but-vigorous movement has been working to reduce U.S. military presence. He manages the pressure with a positive attitude, leaning on his training and his fellow Marines, and he never becomes complacent.

“I take a lot of pride in what we do,” said Simon, who works on his own and inspects his team’s efforts. “I’m putting my name on what I do with the other Marines.”

Simon, from Missouri, spoke to Stars and Stripes in early November while turning nuts and bolts on an aircraft ahead of a long-range raid for Blue Chromite, a Navy-Marines interoperability exercise. The aircraft was to be airborne for more than nine hours the next day, traveling to just outside Tokyo and back with a full complement of combat-loaded Marines.

“You don’t want to get complacent, because you always want to stay on your toes because you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s where the training is required.”

The Marines stay busy with exercises, certifications and humanitarian operations throughout the region, said Simon, who understands the risks.

Just last year, six Marines, including two from Okinawa, died when their UH-1Y Huey helicopter crashed while helping after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. Though the crash was not attributed to maintenance failures, Simon and his team are aware of the dangers of flying.

“It’s a pretty rewarding feeling that we get knowing that we could be saving someone’s life — if there’s a [casualty evacuation] mission — or dropping off grunts,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of humanitarian missions and aiding people out here. I love that about it because I love helping people.”

Simon and his team are also working to restore the Osprey’s reputation. The helicopter-plane hybrids were seen as controversial and were met with protests when they arrived several years ago after high-profile crashes.

However, the Marine Corps’ workhorse has recently performed admirably in the humanitarian and combat spheres. Japan will soon add the Osprey to its aircraft arsenal, and other tilt-rotor platforms are in development.

Simon said he likes the way Ospreys maneuver and how they can change from helicopter to airplane mode during flight.

“If you’re not expecting it, it kind of rattles your stomach a little bit, like if you’re driving a car and you go over a big hump and you get that weightlessness feeling, but it is pretty fun to fly on,” he said.

Col. Thomas Euler, MAG-36’s commander, said crews perform maintenance on the Osprey and other Marine aircraft 24 hours per day. He said their readiness speaks for itself. More than 75 percent of aircraft were in “up status” going into Blue Chromite at the end of October. There are two squadrons forward-deployed to Okinawa, Simon said, which adds some strain.

“Maintaining these aircraft is a challenge,” Euler said. “The Marines not only keep the aircraft in an up status, but it’s also making sure all the weapons systems stay in an up status, and we haven’t dropped one mission during Blue Chromite due to maintenance.”

After a mission, Simon said they make sure each aircraft is serviced and ready to go so they never have to rush the day before a long flight or major exercise.

“Once we’re done, then we get to see it fly and then come back. And sometimes we don’t have to fix it because it’s not broke. Those are good days.”

burke.matt@stripes.com

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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