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USMC Photo by Sgt. Jim Goodwin
Air Frames mechanic Cpl. Bryan Carter walks a VH-3D Sea King into a hangar at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. HMX-1 utilizes hangars at Andrews to tear down aircraft and load them into the C-5.

Marine One crew chiefs: pride of Marine aviation

The sun is beginning to set. Behind the perfectly green White House lawn, media and spectators are grouped behind security tape and are carefully watched by the Secret Service and the Marine White House Liaison Office personnel.

As the white-topped, Marine One Sikorsky VH-3D helicopter comes into view and finally touches ground on the lawn, two Marines donning impeccable dress blue uniforms quickly scamper out of the aircraft as the helo continues to flatten the White House grass with its powerful blades.

The President of the United States exits the aircraft, waving to spectators as both Marines, standing at attention on either side of the Sea King, render, in unison, a crisp, perfect salute to their commander-in-chief. Following the performance, both Marines snap back to attention, board the bird and prepare to head back to the Marine Corps Air Facility here.

Among their many duties with HMX-1, maintaining spit-shinned shoes and flawless dress blue uniforms for presidential lifts are only the tip of the iceberg for these hard-chargers.

As with their Fleet Marine Force counterparts, HMX-1 crew chiefs are responsible for the maintenance and up keep of their "birds." It's the Marine One crew chief's responsibility to ensure his or her aircraft is in top shape and ready for use. But not every HMX-1 crew chief is a Marine One crew chief. There is a difference.

At any given time, there are only four Marine One crew chiefs for each VH-3D helicopter within the squadron. Crew chiefs are selected through boards, similar to meritorious promotion boards, to become part of the elite Marine One foursome. As a new Marine One crew chief is placed on assignment for a one-year tour, another is removed from the duty. This is done mainly to keep crew chiefs from burning out at their assignment due to constant travel and time away from family members.

USMC Photo by Sgt. Jim Goodwin
VH-3D Crew Chief Cpl. Robert Jones gives the thumbs up to pilots on a final post-flight inspection of his bird.

Experts in their Military Occupational Speciality, these Marine crew chiefs oversee work of the other crewmembers and "sign off" on helicopter inspections once they feel the work is satisfactory.

Former Marine One VH-3D Sea King crew chief, Sgt. Shawn Richardson, knows what it's like to tackle the task of performing duties as a Marine One crew chief. As a former FMF crew chief, Richardson already knew that crew chiefs are expected to be on call whenever they're needed. But at HMX-1, a spur of a moment call to a Marine One crew chief could mean an overseas trip within a matter of hours.

"You're always on call," explained Richardson. "You have to keep your bird ready, and you yourself must be ready to take care of business [during lifts]...I'll be half way home to North Carolina on leave and get paged, 'Hey, we have to go to California tomorrow.' You've got to come back from wherever you are and stop whatever you're doing and get the job done."

Initial crew chief training begins at the Basic Helicopter School in Millington, Tenn. After completing the Basic Helicopter School, a Marine heads out to a FMF squadron where he or she receives approximately 45 days of on the job training. During this period, Marines receive the "hands on" experience they'll need to perform their daily tasks by themselves, whether it's maintenance repairs or engine work or operating hydraulics systems.

Upon completing OJT, a Marine either stays with the current squadron he's attached to, or accepts orders to another FMF squadron. Either way, a Marine working in the aviation field in the FMF will eventually catch wind of and probably be invited to apply for orders for HMX-1 through the unit's recruiting team.

Richardson, who received orders to HMX-1 in 1992 while stationed with HMM-261 at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., remembers the countless hours he has spent during his year-long tour with Marine One. He also looks back at the various places he's been to in executing his duties as a crew chief with the "elite four."

"You're responsible for that aircraft," said Richardson. "It's a hard year, but the travel is great."

Knowing that he has served his country and transported his commander-in-chief with safe, reliable transportation is reward enough for the rigorous hours he's spent during his time with Marine One, he added.

USMC Photo by Sgt. Jim Goodwin
Marine One Crew Chief Sgt. Shawn Richardson and Security OIC GySgt. Paul McKenna render salute to President Clinton.

Although his time as a Marine One crew chief is now over, it's an experience he won't be forgetting, he said. England, Denmark, Australia and Hawaii are only a handful of the places this Marine One veteran has journeyed to during his time with HMX-1. This is the case with any former or current Marine One crew chief. The travel is unavoidable and comes with the job, said Richardson.

While Richardson and countless others have had the opportunity to spend a year of their careers transporting the president in Marine One, not everyone will be given the chance to serve duty with the "elite four."

Getting to that position and claiming the title, "Marine One Crew Chief," requires a Marine who exemplifies only the highest standards of the squadron and meets the requirements to become part of a Marine One crew.

The moment a Marine is issued orders to HMX-1, he or she will spend the first part of his or her assignment on the "Green Side" of the squadron. Managing CH-53Es and CH-46Es. Assignment to the Green Side is usually temporary for crew chiefs until their security clearance is approved by HMX-1 investigators.

Crew chiefs are sent to the Naval Air Crew Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., for three months of vigorous training that includes everything from advanced swim qualification to jungle environmental survival tactics.

Upon graduation, crew chiefs are sent to Marine Helicopter Squadron 302 in MCAS New River for additional training. Satisfied with his or her performance, a Marine will eventually be sent back to HMX-1 to perform duties as a newly appointed crew chief, after completing an oral and written final exam administered by a senior crew chief, said Richardson.

Passing both tests, newly appointed HMX-1 crew chiefs then select either the Sea King or Whitehawk as their aircraft of choice. If they've worked hard, met the high standards of the squadron and have experience behind them, a crew chief may then be recommended by his or her superiors to become a Marine One crew chief, said Richardson.

The hand shake also serves as a sort of 'thanks' from the president to the crew chief for the selfless dedication and sacrifice made for the up keep of Marine One.

"It's worth it," said Richardson of his past duties as a Marine One crew chief. "The travel is the best part of this job. You get to see so many countries, and you don't have to be out on a boat for six months to see them.

Article Courtesy of USMC Public Affairs

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