Photo Information

A VMA-542 plane captain guides an AV-8B Harrier in for parking after completing a training mission the night of May 9.

Photo by Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

Night crews burn the midnight oil

17 May 2013 | Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

War is a 24-hour activity. Accordingly, Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 542 work around the clock to keep their aircraft up and running and their pilots trained.

In garrison, all operations revolve around the flight schedule. It dictates who flies, when, in which aircraft and what training the pilots will perform. Maintenance departments make their priorities based on that information. For night shift workers, that means burning the midnight oil to ensure availability for training the next day.
Night shift workers keep long and demanding hours to ensure aircraft are ready to perform.

“Range time is the biggest thing in garrison,” said Cpl. Austin L. Couturier, an aviation ordnance technician with the squadron. “(In combat) we can arm a whole flight schedule and be ready before we need to be, but at the same time, if they don’t have range practice, everything we do is worthless.”

While working at night and sleeping during the day is not natural for people in general, the night shift Marines are accustomed to it and perform their tasks just as the day shift performs theirs. Quality assurance Marines are used to ensure the work was done in a sufficient manner.

“A quality assurance representative has to make sure everybody else is doing the right thing by the publications,” said Staff Sgt. Casey Livingston, a quality assurance inspector with VMA-542. “That involves inspections, audits, and walking around to make sure people are doing things correctly.”

The practice of working around the clock gets Marines ready for when lives depend on air support making a timely arrival. When operating in Afghanistan or on the deck of a ship during a crisis, Marines work to keep the jets in the air supporting the operations. In 2011, ‘542 worked around the clock supporting U.N. Resoulution 1973, protecting civilians in Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn.

“Usually when you’re in the alert, you’re already going to have pre-weapons checks and everything else done,” said Couturier. “If the word is passed to load bombs as quickly as possible, everything is already checked and squared away.”

The night crew keeps everything running smoothly by setting up the day shift for success. With everything prepared for training the night before, the pilots can get right to it.

“Some (pilot training) qualifications are done during the day, some are done at night,” said Jones. “Today, the flights started at 12:45 a.m., and will end at 11:15 p.m. Without night crew, the squadron wouldn’t be prepared for the next day’s events. To get the aircraft ready, you have to have two shifts of maintenance.”
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point