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‘On the line’ with a plane captain

By Lance Cpl. Monique L. Wallace | | August 11, 2006

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Like any other job in the Marine Corps, the day is done when the job is done. For the hard-chargers on the flightline here who spend all day working under the blazing sun, with hands constantly covered with grease and fragranced with the familiar scent of jet fuel, another day means more than just getting the job done, it means keeping Fightertown alive.

This is the life of a plane captain, a Marine responsible for all engine and fuel system maintenance as well as the condition of an F/A-18 Hornet about to be launched.

“We are responsible for the pilot, the plane, and everyone around before it takes off,” said Cpl. Steven Oxley, a plane captain with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312.

“My days consist of work and then going to the gym,” said Oxley, a 20-year-old Tacoma, Wash., native. “I don’t really have time for a social life because I’m so busy. I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and the first thing I do is eat breakfast. We start working at 6 a.m. and usually end around 5 p.m. Lunch is whenever there is time to eat. We work long hours so we don’t have unit PT sessions, but I go to the gym on my own,” Oxley said.

Marines like Oxley are good at their jobs, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing, according to Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Nelson, the powerline division chief with VMFA-312.

“Motivated, assertive plane captains like Corporal Oxley are essential to accomplishing the mission,” said Capt. Nicholas Johnson, the powerline division officer for VMFA-312.

As a plane captain, safety is the biggest issue and Oxley takes his job very seriously. It takes rigorous hours of on-the-job training and numerous study hours that includes the memorization of over 100 hand and arm signals used to communicate on the flightline.

“The process for becoming a plane captain takes a few months to complete,” Oxley said. “There is a plane captain board, a written test and a practical application test.”

Before Oxley lets his F/A-18 leave the ground he inspects the aircraft’s logbook for any previous problems to familiarize himself with the plane’s history. He then performs a thorough check of the aircraft to search for anything that could potentially pose a danger to the pilot.

During this check, Oxley wipes down the canopy, checks the cockpit to make sure everything is in order, examines the tires and axles and performs other numerous tests. When he is done with his inspections, Oxley completes a report, which informs the other Marines of any other discrepancies and will ensure the pilot has a safe flight.

“Plane captains own the aircraft from the time the jet is prepared for flight until the pilot takes it airborne,” Johnson said. “They are responsible for the safety of the aircraft and for all personnel in the vicinity.”

Even as he is concentrating on the safety of the aircraft, Oxley mentors junior Marines learning the ropes to follow in his footsteps.

“Whenever he’s teaching me, he knows what he’s talking about,” said Pfc. Terry Nance, a powerline Marine with VMFA-312. “He’s very confident and professional about his job and he makes sure that he gets things done.”

“Each plane captain is assigned a trainee to mentor,” Nelson said. “Nance is one of my newest guys and Oxley is training him. Nance has surpassed his peers out here and that reflects on Oxley’s abilities as a mentor.”

Until the next sunrise, Oxley and the other powerline Marines with VMFA-312 can be found with tools in hand and sweat-drenched coveralls, continuing to work hard for the sound of freedom.

“I’m here to look after junior Marines by making sure they know how to do their jobs,” Oxley said. “Without us, there wouldn’t be a flight schedule.”
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