CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest helicopter in the U.S. armed forces. Sgt. James L. Hayes III has to duck when he enters it.
“I constantly hit my head walking into the aircraft,” said Hayes, a 6-foot-7-inch native of Yucaipa, Calif.
Hayes serves as an aerial observer and administrative specialist with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464. The Marine and his squadron are currently deployed to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
“I like to challenge myself,” said Hayes. “It is important and rewarding to ensure Marines are properly paid and receive the awards they deserve, but there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you drop a pallet of water or food to a group of Marines in a forward operating base.”
As an aerial observer, Hayes’ responsibilities include operating the weapons systems on board the aircraft, communicating with pilots on what is going on in the rear of the aircraft, and assisting with loading and unloading.
When Hayes checked into Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. in January as an administrative specialist, he immediately volunteered to become part of the aircrew.
Seeking even greater challenges, he then volunteered to join Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 and deploy to Afghanistan.
After graduating Yucaipa High School in 2003, Hayes passed up scholarship offers. He wanted to be a United States Marine.
“I always wanted to be in the military,” said Hayes. “I wanted more discipline and to serve my country.”
Hayes entered with plans of becoming a parachute rigger, but a shoulder injury at the Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga., forced him to switch to the administrative field.
After a tour as an administrative clerk at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Hayes returned to Fort Benning as an administrative specialist.
Hayes now proudly wears a set of gold jump wings, a glistening reminder of a challenge overcome.
To earn jump wings, a service member must complete 10 static-line jumps. To earn the Navy and Marine Corps parachutist insignia, or gold jump wings, a Marine or sailor must complete five more. Hayes left Fort Benning having executed 63 static-line jumps.
“It was an honor to experience the rich history of the Army jump school,” Hayes said. “I got paid by the Marine Corps to get an adrenaline rush and jump out of airplanes.”
Hayes said he is honored to be in Afghanistan and serve with what he described as a great group of Marines, but he misses his children – Natalie, 6, and Garrett, 4.
“The hardest part of this [deployment] is not being with my kids as much as I want, but I know what I’m doing is making it easier for them to sleep at night,” Hayes said. “On bad days I’ll look at the pictures of my kids or at the drawings they’ve sent me. I’ll just remember everything is normal.”
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