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Female Crew Chief Trains for Combat Ops in Afghanistan

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  • Female Crew Chief Trains for Combat Ops in Afghanistan

    U.S. Marine Corps
    Lance Cpl. Kay Barnes

    Female Crew Chief Trains for Combat Ops

    By Marine Staff Sgt. Rusty Baker
    Marine Aircraft Group-41

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, Nov. 29, 2004 –– Not far from the jagged, mountainous terrain of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a fortified helicopter base keeps a vigilant watch for terrorist activity. A sandstorm looms ever so close to the base, rendering flight operations to that of essential purpose only.

    However, there is still time to give a rookie helicopter crew chief a chance to practice shooting one of the door mounted machine guns over a nearby firing range. But there is one striking difference between this door gunner and others within the tight-knit group of crew chiefs in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 presently at Forward Operating Base Salerno – the rookie is a female.

    “I didn’t see (myself) sitting around while my country was going to war without me,” Marine Lance Cpl. Kay Barnes.

    Marine Lance Cpl. Kay Barnes, a 30-year-old reservist originally from Richmond Hill, Ga., performs a walk-around final check of her UH-1N Iroquois “Huey” gunship.

    As an extra precaution from falling out of the helicopter, she straps a gunner’s belt to her desert-clad body armor and fastens the clip to the floor of the aircraft.

    Barnes admits that when deciding on a career in the Marine Corps Reserve, she didn’t want something that she could do just as easily in the civilian world – she wanted combat. Now that her squadron has been mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan, she’ll probably get her chance.

    “I didn’t see (myself) sitting around while my country was going to war without me,” said Barnes.

    It wasn’t the images of jetliners going through the twin towers that made her answer the call. She said watching her country going to war on television, knowing she had an opportunity to be a part of it and do something useful, took her to the local recruiting station in Athens, Ga.

    Barnes has only been at Salerno for a few weeks, and her lack of experience keeps her from going on quick reaction force missions that are often conducted in the cover of darkness.

    But once she proves herself with more “trigger time” on the nearby firing range, Barnes will find herself providing ground maintenance under the direction of her noncommissioned officers. Regardless of the work being done, she feels that being in Afghanistan is a great opportunity.

    “I didn’t expect a vacation out here. I expect to perform as part of a team and accomplish missions as they arrive,” she said.

    Marine Lance Cpl. Kay Barnes, HMLA 773 crew chief, readies her M-240D for firing as the UH-1N Iroquois "Huey" banks hard to the left for a pass over the firing range at Forward Operating Base Salerno.

    “They told me when I checked into my squadron they didn’t care if I were male or female, as long as I could carry a 50-caliber,”said Barnes. The GAU-16 50-caliber machine gun weighs approximately 65 pounds.

    So far, most of Barnes’ experience is with the 7.62 mm M-240D machine gun, but she is excited to get some trigger time with the 3,000 rounds-per-minute, 7.62 mm GAU-17 Gatling-style “mini-gun.”

    Because of the relatively small size of the Huey, an aircrew – two pilots, a left and right door gunner, and the optional aerial observer – can develop a common bond that can last for years.

    “A crew’s a family,” said Marine Sgt. Eric “Sideshow” Sharp, HMLA 773 crew chief. “(Pilots) rely on us to back them up on the gauges, and we rely on them to shake the sticks right and keep us out of the dirt.”

    Being a door gunner is just one of the many duties performed both in the air and on the ground. There are also daily aircraft inspections and maintenance, loading and unloading of passengers, and responsibilities of external equipment such as rocket pods.

    However, Barnes isn’t the first female door gunner in the Marine Corps, nor the first at Salerno.

    Humbly, she admits she has rather large shoes to fill with some of the now combat veteran female door gunners that her detachment relieved.

    Not yet engaging the enemy, she said she doesn’t know what type of emotions she may bring back from the crosshairs of her machine gun. She doesn’t feel particularly “uptight” about the possibilities, she’s more concerned about her performance in the aircraft and ensuring she never does anything to jeopardize her fellow crewmembers.

    For now, more range time is prescribed before she’ll get that chance.

    “As far as I’m concerned, the bad guys have it coming,” she said. “If it’s in the best interests of America, then it’s in my best interests.”
    More Profiles
    Alan H. Barbour, Historian
    USMC Combat Helicopter Assoc
    "Often Tested, Always Faithful, Brothers Forever"

  • #2
    Chinook loss in Afghanistan

    I hear seventeen personnel gave their all today. God Bless you and keep you.