It takes many Marines to ensure Harrier is safe to fly
For those who face it in battle, the Harrier can be lethal. But for those who fly it in battle, it should be safe.
Keeping it well-maintained is the task of about 1,500 Marines at MCAS Yuma, including everyone from administration to mechanics to help keep the jets flying.
Master Sgt. James W. Thomas, maintenance administration chief with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, said the job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"It's a full-time job," said Thomas, who helps ensure the Marines at MCAS Yuma are performing maintenance on the jets.
Hourly, daily and monthly maintenance for the planes is labor-intensive, Thomas said. There are a lot of inspections, at different intervals and depending on how long the aircraft flies. And for every hour of flight time, it takes an average of 10.75 hours of maintenance to keep the more than $23 million jet running.
Just servicing the engine, which has to be done every 1,000 hours, requires taking off the wings, which span just over 30 feet. Then mechanics rebuild the engine to make sure the Harriers are in great shape to fly.
But it's not just keeping the jets ready to fly - it's doing the job right.
"Safety is paramount," said Thomas. "Without everybody doing what they are supposed to be doing, and doing it safely, we couldn't get it done."
This year, MCAS Yuma turns 50, and the Harriers have been a part of Marine aviation for more than 30 years. The base is home to four Harrier squadrons: VMA-211, VMA-214, VMA-311 and VMA-513.
Stationed at MCAS Yuma since 1994, Thomas knows about Harriers. He has worked with Harriers his entire career. And in 21 years as a Marine, he has been to 15 training schools to learn about Harrier maintenance.
Thomas was originally stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and said he "took a chance" when he made the move to Yuma.
"I had to get a map out to see exactly where it was at," Thomas said.
When Thomas got to Yuma 14 years ago, he said it was a "different world, completely."
"What used to be a lettuce field (or) the desert, now you've got homes there," Thomas said.
And after 14 years, Thomas said he will retire from MCAS Yuma. He said he's lucky to have been in one place for so long, and it's allowed him and his wife to raise their children in one place.
"(I) can't think of any place I'd rather be," Thomas said.
Thomas said most of the men and women who work on the Harriers are around 18 to 19 years old.
He said the training the Marines receive is impressive. After boot camp, Marines go to school for approximately 34 weeks to learn how to perform maintenance on the jets.
Thomas said at the school, Marines learn "everything there is to know to do their job proficiently."
Thomas said after school, they're experts at it.
And without the Marines who help keep the planes flying safely, the Corps couldn't help provide the ground support for which the Harrier is known.
He said everyone has a big responsibility, and it takes time, effort and energy.
"They step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to keep the jets flying," Thomas said.
Stephanie A. Wilken can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6857.