MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI -- A tactical aircraft landing at more than 150 mph is not something one would typically want to interfere with, but for the Marines of Station Recovery, grabbing onto speeding jets with a steel cable to bring them to a quick stop is what they have been trained to do.
With dozens of flights taking off and landing each day, recovery must ensure they are ready to perform their mission. If they are not ready, the alternative is unacceptable.
"The airfield can't operate without us being here," said Lance Cpl. Corey Sikes, recovery disburse technical publications librarian. "They have to have this gear in case something goes wrong. If all the gear was down, the airfield could be closed to all tactical aircraft."
Recovery is made up of approximately 30 Marines who work 24-hour shifts to keep the arresting gear up and running.
There are six sets of arresting gear located across the runway. A steel cable stretches across the runway and is attached to two reels, one on each side of the runway, which are anchored deep in the ground.
When an aircraft comes in for a "trap," it lowers its tail hook which catches the cable shortly after landing. The cable quickly unravels off the reels and the arresting gear causes resistance to immediately slow the aircraft to a halt.
"Just to be able to see a plane come from that speed and stop that fast lets you know that you have done your job," Sikes said.
The two times when recovery will make an arrestment are during training and during an emergency.
According to Capt. Ben Malmanger, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212 pilot, training arrestments are conducted to maintain pilot proficiency, as well as test recovery Marines and gear.
Although training is important, during an emergency, recovery Marines quickly become an even more valuable asset.
"If we have any kind of brake problem or a hydraulic problem, we can't stop." Malmanger said. "If we don't have hydraulics, how are we going to stop unless we put our hook down and catch a wire?"
For the Marines on the ground, there is a great sense of accomplishment when things go right.
"It's real exciting to know when you do an emergency trap, you just possibly saved that pilot's life and saved a lot of money had that aircraft gone off the runway," Sikes said.
To ensure tactical aircraft can fly, the Marines of recovery work long hours, have few days off and spend all holidays and weekends on the runway. If aircraft are not flying, they are busy repairing and inspecting the gear.
To the pilots in the air, the Marines on the ground and their equipment give them a sense of security they don?t want to do without.
When pilots make an emergency arrestment, there is an unwritten rule that they carry out.
"It's not uncommon for a pilot to give his patch to the recovery crew," Malmanger noted. "It's just kind of an unwritten procedure and I think they appreciate that."
Although the Marines of recovery are not in the public's line of sight, they greatly affect the capabilities of the Station and the aircraft that operate out of Iwakuni.
"I think they do a super job," Malmanger said. "Any time we have needed to use the cables, they have been ready to go. They always seem highly motivated when we taxi by."