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Staff Sgt. Luis Gonzales, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 avionics technician, helps replace a generator in one of the squadron’s AV-8B Harriers on the flightline of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 9.

Photo by Pfc. Sean Dennison

Electronics technicians keep Marine pilots flying in Afghanistan

16 Aug 2011 | Pfc. Sean Dennison PEO Land Systems

Within every Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier is a nervous system. A network of wires and cables relay battlefield information to the pilot and send his intent with the flick of a wrist or press of a button back through the jet at the speed of light.

The end result: a nimble attack jet that can hover, land vertically, and provide precision bombs on target.

In Afghanistan, the task of safeguarding the network of wires and cables that make the Harrier capable falls upon the shoulders of Marine Attack Squadron 513’s avionics technicians.

 “We’re the brains of the jet,” explained Cpl. Jacob Campbell, a VMA-513 avionics technician and native of St. Louis, Mo. “Everything is related to us somehow.”

 The avionics Marines are responsible for the thousands of wires that snake through the Harrier.  Avionic technicians impact a variety of the Harrier’s systems, including radar, weapons, navigation and landing gear.

On any given Afghan day, there’s no exact routine for avionics technicians. One scenario could see the Marines replacing a generator on a Harrier, another troubleshooting a problem with flight controls.

“Depending on the discrepancy, we identify the symptoms of what’s wrong with the aircraft, and then troubleshoot the problem using a variety of publications,” said Sgt. Brian Stephens, a VMA-513 avionics technician and Garden Grove, Calif., native.

Sometimes if other shops have issues concerning their systems, avionics is the final stop for help.

Avionics is also in charge of maintaining the Harriers’ Litening pod targeting system.

Cpl. Inez Pabian, a VMA-513 avionics technician and Northridge, Calif., native, explained that the targeting system allow pilots to “paint” a laser on enemy vehicles or structures, which are then used to pinpoint airstrikes.

As well, the system displays an infrared battlefield for the pilot, the image of which can also be relayed to ground troops to better coordinate attacks and improve accuracy.

Just as Marines on the ground in Afghanistan must be accurate with their rifles, avionics technicians must be skilled with their armament of wrenches, wire cutters and soldering gear.

“There’s no room for error here,” said Campbell. “If we mess up, a jet’s not flying.”

Thanks to the desert atmosphere of their home base at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., the avionic Marines said they are accustomed to working in a hot, sandy environment – but working under the stresses of a combat zone is different than garrison life. 

“The Marines have performed exceptionally since we’ve been here,” said Master Sgt. Michael Cianci, the VMA-513 avionics chief and Salem, N.H., native. “We’ve overcome additional adversities we didn’t foresee, but we handled it extremely well.”

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