Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Fanelli, a helicopter crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron (HMLAT) 303, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, looks out of a UH-1Y Venom helicopter at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, Dec. 16, 2022. As a helicopter crew chief, Fanelli is responsible for maintaining the aircraft, preparing the helicopter for take-off and landing and manning weapon systems aboard the aircraft. Fanelli is a New Jersey native. (Photo courtesy of Cpl. Fanelli)

Photo by Cpl. Mary Jenni

The sky is not the limit for this Camp Pendleton Marine

7 Feb 2024 | Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CAMP PENDLETON, CALIF. – Whether flying, training to shoot machine guns from the door of a UH-1Y Venom, inspecting helicopter maintenance work, or maintaining critical flight systems, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Fanelli loves it all.

Fanelli is a Venom crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron (HMLAT) 303, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and the first person in his family to join the Marine Corps.

"I joined for the discipline; I knew I wanted to be a Marine when I was four years old," said Fanelli. “I like history, and throughout history, Marines have been the best.”

Since joining the Marine Corps in 2020, the New Jersey native has made it a personal goal to be one of the best. Fanelli was immediately drawn to the excitement of aviation when his recruiter described the responsibilities of a UH-Y crew chief, which includes manning a machine gun while the aircraft is in flight. Fanelli soon realized training would be more difficult than he first believed but was ready to accept the challenge.

Fanelli still had hurdles to tackle after completing basic training. During a year and a half of advanced training, he attended Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School and, type-model series maintenance school, and conducted an arduous water survival qualification. The swim qualification consists of a one-mile timed swim, remaining afloat in full combat gear, a 50-meter underwater swim, and buddy float for warmth. Fanelli also had to complete underwater egress training, an event designed to teach Marines how to exit an aircraft submerged in water during an emergency.

“Overcoming my fear and being confident in the water is definitely one of my biggest accomplishments,” said Fanelli.

Fanelli now has the goal of becoming a door gunner, giving him the responsibility of firing the GAU-21 .50 caliber machine gun, M240D machine gun, and the six-barrel GAU-17A rotary machine gun.

"I am getting hands-on training and reviewing information for the Venom door weapon systems," said Fanelli.

He is also working to become a collateral duty inspector, ensuring the quality of aircraft, engines, components, and equipment maintenance. Fanelli is taking deliberate steps to meet his goals, including studying with his leaders and mentors.

“One of my favorite things we do is take down the entire aircraft, and then we build it back up and inspect everything as we go,” he said. “It is basically like adult LEGOs.”

Fanelli also desires to work at Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMX) 1, the Marine Corps helicopter squadron responsible for transporting the president and vice president. Fanelli is interested in the opportunity to work with senior leaders, military advisors, and the president.

"I want to continue doing my job, just at a higher echelon," he said.

In addition to its presidential duties, HMX-1 maintains the role of the primary operational test and evaluation unit for Marine assault support helicopters and related equipment. The same pilots and aircrew supporting the president are often testing and evaluating aircraft and systems used by the Fleet Marine Force.

"I also want the relatively high-tempo lifestyle and extensive travel opportunities that working with HMX-1 would bring," Fanelli said.

Fanelli’s favorite part of his job at HMLAT-303 is meeting and working with people.

"That is one of the reasons I joined, to meet people from all walks of life and learn how to work with others,” said Fanelli.

Fanelli advises Marines to learn as much as they can. "Follow directions and be yourself, but also be a sponge for knowledge," he said.

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