Face of Defense: Mechanic Realizes Role in Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, Aug. 10, 2011 — As an air­frame mechan­ic with Marine Heavy Heli­copter Squadron 464, Cpl. Leonard R. Knud­sen Jr.‘s job can feel the same whether he is at Marine Corps Air Sta­tion New Riv­er, N.C., or Camp Bas­tion, Afghanistan.

“I fix parts on the air­craft,” Knud­sen said two weeks into his deploy­ment. “It doesn’t mat­ter if I’m in New Riv­er or here. The only dif­fer­ence is now it’s hot­ter and dusty.”

That was until the Chica­go native was asked to repair some­thing he nev­er had before: a bul­let hole.

One of the squadron’s CH-53E Super Stal­lions returned from the per­il of the dusty south­ern Afghanistan envi­ron­ment hav­ing tak­en ene­my small-arms fire on a recent mis­sion. One of the rounds entered the under­side of the air­craft and went through a steel rail used to attach car­go to the hull.

“See­ing that gave me a sense of greater pur­pose,” Knud­sen said, sweat bead­ing on his fore­head. “They were stand­ing direct­ly under­neath it when they shot. If they’re that close, it shows how dan­ger­ous it is out there.”

The dust at Camp Bas­tion can be so thick as to make earth and sky near­ly inde­ci­pher­able. With a grace­ful whirl of large blades, the squadron’s Super Stal­lions fre­quent­ly depart the secu­ri­ty of the hangar and dis­ap­pear into the sandy expanse to pro­vide a broad range of sup­port for Marines and their coali­tion and Afghan part­ners on the ground.

Using the largest heli­copter in the Amer­i­can arse­nal, the squadron sup­ports the fight in Afghanistan with heavy-lift capa­bil­i­ties, resup­plies, and troop inser­tion and extrac­tion.

When he first arrived, Knud­sen said, he would stare at the vast­ness in front of him and it didn’t seem real.

“In every pho­to I had ever seen of Afghanistan, there were moun­tains,” he said. “All I saw here was dirt.”

One morn­ing, Knud­sen walked out onto the flight­line when the dust had set­tled just enough, and was able to see the jagged out­line of a moun­tain on the hori­zon.

“That’s when it hit me that the ene­my was out there, and we had guys out there going after them,” he said.

Knud­sen smoothed out the steel sur­round­ing the helicopter’s wound. His next task was to cut a piece of met­al pro­por­tion­ate to the size of the hole, riv­et it to the rest of the rail­ing, and sand it down – return­ing it to an unblem­ished piece of steel.

As he spoke of his duties with qui­et inten­si­ty, Knud­sen briefly allowed his mind to drift back to his loved ones back home.

“I’m excit­ed to deploy, but nat­u­ral­ly I miss my wife and kid,” the soft-spo­ken Marine said of his wife, Brit­ney, and his 11-month-old son, Kyler. “When I’m tired from a long day, I go home and call my wife, and I can sleep pret­ty good.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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