CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan, Jan. 20, 2012 – Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Lemke’s diligence as a helicopter mechanic paid off recently when he discovered a potentially deadly flaw in a UH-1Y Huey aircraft, military officials said.
Lt. Col. Ian Clark, left, commanding officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, pins the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal on Sgt. Christopher Lemke during a ceremony at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2012. Lemke, a mechanic with the squadron, discovered a previously unknown issue with the UH-1Y Huey helicopter that represented an extreme risk to the aircraft and aircrew.
Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones
The sergeant was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal in a Jan. 12 ceremony here because of his find.
Lemke, a mechanic with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, nicknamed the “Gunfighters,” regularly conducts inspections on the squadron’s UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.
It was during a routine phase inspection of a Huey in late December that Lemke, a native of Macomb, Mich., uncovered something that could save countless lives. Phase inspections are regular checks on an aircraft’s various components to ensure they are safe.
Underneath the UH-1Y Huey in the aircraft’s transmission compartment — an area so difficult to reach that maintainers call it the “hell hole” — Lemke found something wrong.
“When two metals rub together, it creates this black liquid, and that’s what I found,” he said.
The transmission pylon beam and the main beam joint, which secure the aircraft’s transmission to the airframe, were disintegrating.
“This failure represented an extreme risk to the aircraft and aircrew,” Lemke’s award citation reads.
The citation goes on to state that Lemke’s finding led to a Corps-wide inspection, resulting in an engineering advisory report about a manufacturing defect found on multiple UH-1Y aircraft.
“No one else had ever found such an issue, but when we looked at another aircraft we had in phase, it had the same problem. There was a fault in the design of the aircraft,” he said.
Lemke was not scheduled to inspect that part of the helicopter as there had never been an issue in the history of the aircraft, but he explained that Marine Corps aircraft maintenance demands more than completing the minimum requirements.
“That’s how I was trained — it’s the Gunfighter way,” Lemke said of his squadron. “Our job isn’t just replacing things. If we don’t do it right, that’s someone’s life.”
Lemke is known for his work ethic.
“It’s no surprise to me,” Lemke’s supervisor, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ricardo Paez, said. “He’s always gone in there and done his job the right way.”
Lemke said he hopes younger mechanics in the squadron — the privates first class, lance corporals and corporals — see that as aircraft maintainers, they hold lives in their hands.
“I’m 24 years old and the responsibility we hold for our age is astronomical,” Lemke said. “I hope the junior guys around me realize that and go out and provide combat-capable aircraft for the Marines on the ground.”