Osprey maintainers take pride in vital role
November 28, 2016
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.”