War on Terrorism

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Face of Defense: Crew Chief Ensures Pilots’ Safety

By Army Spc. Kam Gerohimos
Task Force Shooter

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2011 – On a cold, windy morning in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, two seasoned Army pilots were beginning their preflight checks at the airfield here Jan. 4.

But Brig. Gen. Warren Phipps, assistant division commander for support for Regional Command East and Combined Joint Task Force 101, and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Timothy French, an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior standardization instructor pilot, weren’t alone.

Army Spc. Carlos Mendez, an OH-58D Kiowa helicopter crew chief with the 10th Mountain Division’s Troop A, Task Force Shooter, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, also was inspecting the helicopter, ensuring secure communications in its radios and cleaning and defogging the windows. The Fresno, Calif., native is serving his second deployment, having deployed to Iraq two years ago.

“Ensuring the aircraft safety to support the mission is honestly one of my favorite aspects of being a crew chief,” he said.

After the preflight inspections, the pilots climbed into the compact cockpit and within minutes, the aircraft roared to life and the rotors were at full speed. Despite the sudden rush of whipping wind and the sound of the roaring rotors that seeped through his headset, Mendez didn’t flinch.

After a few moments, French waved for Mendez to come to the aircraft. Mendez ran under the rotating blades to get instructions from French, who had to yell to be heard above the noise. Mendez made a few adjustments to the aircraft, then ran back to the edge of the flightline. Finally, the helicopter ascended into a hover before turning and taking off into the Afghanistan skies.

Maintaining the helicopter to safely fly is one of the most important jobs for an OH-58D crew chief. The tiniest flaw could put the lives of the pilots flying in serious danger.

Before the unit received the newest OH-58D(R) model Kiowa, Mendez said, he would get to fly on maintenance test flights with the pilots.

“Flying has to be the best part of being a crew chief,” he said.

Before he joined the Army, Mendez worked in construction. He said he chose to be a crew chief because he wanted to challenge his abilities. He chose to join the Army, he added, because he felt the need to serve.

“I also wanted to do something selfless for my country because of everything it’s done for me,” he said.

Mendez said he supports the mission by ensuring the pilots are safe so they can assist ground forces effectively.

“Being a crew chief has been a great experience for me,” he said, “I’ve developed a great knowledge of my job and made some lifelong friendships.”

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