MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (NOV. 10, 2010) --
Imagine spending 3,000 hours in a wind walloping, teeth chattering CH-53E Super Stallion, the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military.
Staff Sgt. Chris S. Garrison, a CH-53E crew chief with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, hit that milestone Nov. 10.
In comparison, 3,000 hours is about the equivalent to flying eight-hours a day for a year.
“It started back in 1995,” Garrison recalled. “Never imagined I’d still be doing it, but I keep getting reinvigorated and realize deep inside I love it.”
Garrison remembers how enamored with the helicopter he was at first, but said it was a defining moment when he realized what 30,000 pounds of responsibility felt like.
“It was a lot of weight for a 19-year-old kid,” he said. “Over the years I feel like I’ve become more aware of the magnitude of my job with my maturation as a person.”
Adding to the rarity of being the 3,000th hour flight, the flight was a night mission and the crewmembers practiced firing .50-caliber belt-fed machine guns out the rear and side openings of the helicopter.
“We only do night shoots about every three months or so,” said Garrison.
The mission’s aircraft commander, Maj. Jeffrey A. Hubley said, “Tonight was one of the most challenging environments we operate in.” Hubley, who is also the operations officer for HMH-366 added, “Every time I see Garrison’s name on the flight schedule next to mine, I breathe a little easier.”
The average flight lasts anywhere from three to five hours and Garrison estimated that he hit his 1,000th-hour mark about 10 years ago and hit his 2,000th-hour mark about five years later, leading up to now, having surpassed 3,000 hours.
The crew chief said he attributes the majority of the hours to deployments.
Garrison has been on six deployments, which have taken him to Okinawa, Indonesia, and two seven-month tours in Iraq, where some missions lasted as long as 14 hours.
“It takes a toll on you,” Garrison explained. “The physical part of it is probably the most demanding, with the vibrations, turning and the occasional rough patches. There is a mental aspect to it too because of all the moving parts. These helicopters don’t just fly; they beat the air into submission.”
Hubley noted that only a handful of Marines in the Marine Corps have obtained 3,000 hours. Garrison gained many of the hours through volunteering for extra flights over the course of his career.
The operations officer added, “Garrison could slow down flying if he wanted to, but he doesn’t and it’s a testament to his character. He teaches the young guys and shows them the ropes.”
“I still have a blast everyday I come to work,” Garrison said. “3,000 hours is huge. Last night I got to thinking and I wondered – can I hit 4,000?”