By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joe J. Cardona Gonzalez
Aviation support equipment technicians, or AS, aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) celebrated the 52nd year of their rate’s inception, Feb. 22, 2018.
“There is no air support without ground support,” said Iwo Jima Command Master Chief Ervin H. Byrd III. “These guys are thorough and down to the point when it comes to getting aircraft in the air.”
The AS rating is responsible for performing preventive and corrective maintenance on aviation support equipment, aviation armament handling equipment, aviation mobile firefighting units, material handling equipment, hoisting and lifting devices, and associated components and systems.
ASs service a variety of systems that include engines, transmissions, hydraulics, pneumatics, cryogenics, electrical and refrigeration. They also manage support equipment assets at different command levels and provide training on operation and maintenance of aviation support equipment.
With complex systems to work with, they can find themselves immersed in a variety of tasks. For some, this aspect of the job can be the most gratifying.
“It’s really cool, and I like to work with my hands,” said Aviation Support Equipment Technician Airman John Eichin, who struck the AS rate after entering the Navy as an undesignated airman.
Another Sailor that shares a similar story is Cmdr. Paul S. Tremblay, Iwo Jima’s Chaplain.
“I was an undesignated seaman recruit when I first joined the Navy on June 8, 1986,” said Tremblay. “The deal was I could have a selection of rates I qualified for. And I decided on AS. I went to “A” school had the aptitude for it and finished first in my class.”
Among the diverse paths that may bring a Sailor to the AS rate, one Sailor in particular stands out as a trailblazer. Master Chief Aviation Support Equipment Technician Zenaida Colon, from Puerto Rico, joined at the age of 24 and became the first female to earn the rank of master chief in the field.
“For somebody that came into the Navy in the early ‘80s, came from Puerto Rico and didn’t speak English, it’s inspiring,” said Aviation Support Equipment Technician 1st Class Jimmy Ballard, divisional leading petty officer for IM04 division.
When asked why celebrating a rate is important, Ballard said, “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
For 52 years and counting the AS rate continues to mold its Sailors as a rapid and ready Navy ground support component, enabling aviation operations to be executed when called upon.
Iwo Jima, the command ship of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group is homeported in Mayport, Florida, and conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
The Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and includes Iwo Jima, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team 8 and 4, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staff of Commander, Amphibious Squadron 4.