Tonganoxie men find satisfaction as U.S. Marines
Two young men from Tonganoxie, friends since they were children, have taken similar, yet different, paths.
Both, who are 2003 graduates of Tonganoxie High School, are Marines.
Travis Plake is a helicopter crew chief stationed with the Quantico, Va., Marine Helicopter Squadron-1 Presidential Squadron.
Referred to as HMX-1, this is the sole helicopter transport squadron for the president of the United States.
"When the president has to go somewhere, if he's not on Air Force 1, he flies with us," Plake said.
And as a crew chief, Plake also is qualified for CH-53 super stallions.
The CH-53s, which are 99 feet long and have rotors 79 feet in diameter, are used for transporting heavy equipment, such as Humvees and armored personnel carriers. They can lift 36,000
pounds and can be refueled in the air. Even without refueling, they can fly for six hours.
Plake's longtime friend, Tyler Robinson, is a harrier mechanic. A harrier is a single-seat light attack aircraft that provides offensive air support. The jets can take off and land vertically, without requiring long runways.
Robinson's work is specialized.
He is an ejection seat mechanic for harriers.
"The ejection seat is the last thing before life and death for the pilot," Robinson said. "If the bird's going down and he yanks the cord and it doesn't fire, that's my fault. That's my job."
Robinson said each ejection seat has two fuel-powered rockets that push the pilot 16 G's in a third of a second.
The ejection system depends on precision, which also includes making sure the jet's canopy will disintegrate.
"It blows up the canopy before the ejection seat goes up," Robinson said.
Plake is the son of Greg and Pam Plake, Tonganoxie. Robinson is the son of Gary and Debbie Heath, Tonganoxie, and of Randy and Sharon Robinson, Baldwin.
Both of the servicemen recently were home on leave and spent time together.
Plake left his parents' Tonganoxie home on July 5 to fly to Quantico.
And on Saturday, Robinson, part of the VMA-211 squadron, shipped out from San Diego on his way to Hawaii.
"From there, it's Darwin, Australia, and from Darwin, Australia, I'll go to Egypt for Operation Bright Star," Robinson said, explaining that Operation Bright Star is a training operation. He said that after his training in Egypt, he may be deployed to Iraq.
While Robinson signed up for the Marines when he was a senior in high school and left for boot camp just weeks after graduation, Plake went to college. But in June 2004, Plake, too, joined the Marines.
Both young men signed five-year contracts.
And both look forward to spending time in combat.
Though Plake said it's possible he could be stationed in Virginia for four years, he hopes that eventually he'll be deployed.
"I'd rather get deployed so I can go overseas and do my job," Plake said.
"You learn all that stuff and you're just itchy -- you want to do it," Robinson said.
It's not for him, he said.
"You're not seeing combat for yourself," Robinson said. "You're seeing everyone else in combat, it's the whole looking-out thing, you want to be there for them."
Travis, who said he's trained to shoot a 50-caliber gun out the door of a helicopter, added, "You're learning this stuff just in case you need to use it. I don't want to be just in case -- I want to do it."