MARINE CORPS AIR STAION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- The sun is setting on the Air Station flightline, marking the end of another day and another flight schedule successfully completed.
As most of Fightertown is heading out the gate or back to their barracks, a crew of Marines from the Thunderbolts is just arriving at work – ready to take on the monumental task of preparing all the T-Bolt’s F/A-18C Hornets again for the next day.
"Our nightcrew is able to work miracles during the evening hours," said Lt. Col. Michael Orr, the commanding officer of VMFA-251. "We leave at the end of the day and by the next morning, our jets are up and ready for training, even if the night prior all of the jets weren't completely operational."
The mission of the T-Bolt’s nightcrew maintenance Marines, like any other squadron aircraft maintenance Marines here, is to perform organization-level repairs to the jets, but one of the main differences is that nightcrew works during the evening hours of 4 p.m. to approximately midnight, or even 4 a.m. the next morning if there are extra repairs needed to be done from the day.
While the daycrew concentrates their repairs to ensure the launch and recovery of the Hornets, the nightcrew is able to perform more scheduled and detailed maintenance with very little interruptions.
They can focus on one issue at a time, according to Orr.
"Being nightcrew, you have more of an affect on the combat readiness status of the aircraft," said Lance Cpl. Kevin Emmett, an ordnance team member with VMFA-251. "During the nightshift, we have a major impact on daily operations by making critical repairs, otherwise that aircraft won't fly the next day."
Being assigned to the night maintenance crew is also a good way to train new Marines in their job field because they get more of an opportunity to work on Hornets, explained Sgt. Matthew Kinsey, a quality assurance representative with the T-Bolts.
"I like working on nightcrew more because I've learned a lot and have less distractions," said Pfc. Timothy Clark, an airframes mechanic with the T-Bolts. "(Daycrew) doesn't get to perform as much maintenance as we do, because the flight schedule prevents any major jet repairs."
Nightcrew Marines do not usually experience the routine interruptions that daycrew has to put up with, such as filling quotas for working parties that cause them to be shorthanded, according to Lance Cpl. Zach Martinage, an avionics technician with the T-Bolts.
"It's a double-edged sword though, because if we need to get any kind of administrative matters taken care of, or maybe even a medical appointment, we have to get that taken care of on our off time because it's closed at night," Martinage said. "Other than that though, after you get used to being awake and working during the dark hours, being nightcrew can be fun and I feel like I'm learning my job faster."
The general mission of nightcrew stays the same whether the squadron is either aboard ship or on the ground, according to Orr.
"While we were in (Al Asad Air Base, Iraq) last year, we shifted our nightcrew to a 12-hour shift schedule starting at noon and ending at midnight when another crew would take over," Orr said. "We did this because Iraq is hot during the day and cool at night, that way both day and nightcrew shared the weather."
During deployments operational tempo increases, especially in a combat environment, according to Orr. The nightcrews are critical to mission accomplishment since a squadron cannot afford to have aircraft down for long periods of time.
As part of a carrier air wing, the T-Bolts need to maintain combat readiness for possible deployments, according to Orr.
"I am proud of our nightcrew, they're the quiet heroes," Orr said. "They are able to turn around all of our jets by the next day, and don't get to see the overall difference they make in our squadron."