MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, OKINAWA, Japan — Installing 20-inch rims, a knife-edge spoiler and space-age brakes may help keep some local sports cars safely on the ground at high speeds, but those ground effects shouldn't be confused with Ground Support Equipment, the low-profile section here that performs maintenance and repairs on the hundreds of pieces of equipment necessary to get aircraft safely off the ground.
"Currently we house and maintain 410 different pieces of equipment including air compressors, cranes, generators and aircraft repair stands," says 2nd Lt. Ismael Soto, the officer in charge of GSE, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-36. "Our mission is to support the flight line operations of the four squadrons currently here."
Like an automotive dealership that fixes and replaces broken car parts, GSE switches out broken equipment brought in by aircraft mechanics with a fully functioning piece of gear on the spot.
Each squadron has a Marine liaison to facilitate the transfer of equipment from their squadron to GSE and back on a day-to-day basis.
"The equipment and abilities of GSE are essential to refueling and cargo operations," says Gunnery Sgt. Randall E. Vest, quality assurance chief with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron-152. "They are always prepared to replace or repair any piece of equipment we need."
Because of the station's 24-hour operating schedule, GSE Marines are called upon constantly to issue or repair the variety of equipment.
"Our job is essentially customer service, thus we keep a duty here at all times. The high operations tempo for squadrons has Marines coming in to check out gear all the time," Soto says. "This makes it necessary to cross train all our Marines as much as possible so they can put equipment through a proper function check as quickly as possible before issuing it to squadrons."
Cross training is performed in separate work centers to give Marines knowledge in four areas: engines, hydraulics, electronics and small component repair.
"There is complicated equipment here, such as a mobile electric power plant that has an engine along with an electrical system used to power up aircraft," says Cpl. Jacob J. Downs, a GSE electrician. "I can work on the electronics by myself and a mechanic can work solely on the engine or we can assist each other and get things done faster."
The section credits close teamwork for allowing them to get the equipment out to the flight line quickly. However, being efficient and repairing the myriad of equipment coming through their shops is a challenge for GSE.
"In most other (military occupational specialties) there are lulls and spikes in the amount of work to be done on a day-to-day basis," Soto says. "We're always busy, but the Marines here expect to work long hours."
While the average Marine may have to scratch his head wondering what the air station's Ground Support Equipment shops really are, the Marines who make up the section take pride in their work and are satisfied with their anonymity.
"These Marines know how hard they work. Their reward is seeing the equipment up and running," Soto says.