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Marines clean helos that have flown in every clime, place

ABOARD USS TARAWA (April 22, 2008) – Marines from every section of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), pitched in to keep their aircraft looking good during an agricultural wash down in the Arabian Gulf. The cleaning, or “De-snailing,” as aviation combat crews call it, is done to cleanse the entire aircraft of any foreign matter that has been collected over the last several months.

11th MEU story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

The Marines from HMM-166 (Rein), Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, are in the last stages of a seven month deployment through the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf region. HMM-166 (Rein) is the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

During this deployment, ACE aircraft flew in and out of the deserts of the Middle East and across tropical jungles of Guam and the Maldives. They ferried relief supplies to villagers in Bangladesh who were ravaged by the deadly Cyclone Sidr in November 2007 and they flew combat training missions into rocky terrain and humid conditions in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

“When the helicopters fly onto foreign land, they attract all kinds of dirt and it accumulates over the months,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan T. Parker, Airframes Division Chief, HMM-166 (Rein). “The last thing we want is to bring any kind of foreign soil or organic material from other countries into the United States.”

The night prior to a wash down, the night crews completely removed all panels and avionics components from the entire aircraft so they could get to all the nooks and crannies. “We work behind the scenes,” said Cpl. Chad Smolios, Air Frames night crew supervisor, from Valparaiso, Ind. “We move the aircraft into position so the day crew can thoroughly vacuum, washed them with water and wiped them down with rags,” said Smolios.

“It’s kind of like taking your car to the car wash and washing it inside and out,” Parker added. When the day crew is done cleaning the birds, the aircrafts are left to dry and the night crew comes back to put them back together. “With a good crew, we can take apart and assemble two aircraft in 12 hours,” said Smolios.

Four days into the wash-down, the Marines are not slowing down. They figure they have a couple more long days and nights of work ahead of them. They need to wash 12 CH-46E Sea Knights, four CH-53E Super Stallions, two UH-1N Hueys and four AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters.

To get the job done, every shop in the ACE, including support personnel and officers, help out at one point or another, said Parker. “It is one of the only maintenance procedures that is done by all hands in the squadron, not just one or two sections.”

Parker said that of the four “De-snails” he has taken part in, this has been by far the most efficient and organized. “The Marines are knocking out plane after plane very quickly and are doing a great job,” he said. “It’s been a long, tough job, and a lot of them are pretty beat down, but they’re hanging in there and getting it done.”