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Robert A. (Tony) Dill is coming up on the first anniversary of a new career.
He works for Bell Helicopter as a supervisor of integrated field logistics field services in Bell’s V-22 Osprey program. The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft used by the Marines. It can take off and land vertically like a helicopter or fly horizontally like a turboprop aircraft.
Dill began his first career shortly after graduating from Liberty High School in 1984. In July of that year he reported to Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
“I was looking for something challenging and adventurous,” Dill said, explaining his decision to join the Marines.
Dill said the contacted all the branches of the armed forces. A Marine recruiter got to him first.
“Besides, they have the best looking uniforms,” he commented.
Dill had gone in with a guaranteed Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). His recruiter, noting his high scores on the entrance exam, advised that he choose a technical specialty and advised the aviation field.
“I started off as a mechanic, as a private, working on H-53 aircraft,” Dill said.
The CH-53 is a large helicopter used by the Marine Corps. It has a six-bladed main rotor that is 72-feet in diameter. Dill said it could carry 54 troops or 40 tons of cargo. The newest version has even more lift capacity.
“It can lift a house,” he said.
His service took him on tours of duty to the Western Pacific. While there he was part of Operation Fiery Vigil — the evacuation of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines due to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. Dill was with HMH-772 at that time. HMH designates a heavy helicopter squadron. The USS Midway (CV-41) offloaded its combat air group (CAG) and picked up Dill’s squadron from Okinawa. They had five CH-53s and operated them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“They were swapping out pilots,” Dill said.
The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) had also offloaded most of its CAG and joined the operation.
“We were ferrying people over to the Lincoln,” Dill said. “The whole hangar deck was full of cots.”
Without their combat air groups, the cavernous hangar decks of the aircraft carriers served as floating emergency shelters. Dill said they were also assisted by the USS Peleliu (LHA-5) Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG). An LHA, which looks much like a small aircraft carrier, is usually the center of an ARG. An ARG is a forward-deployed force ready to land a large force of Marines at a designated location on short notice.
Once the evacuation was done, the ships headed off with the people Dill’s squadron had evacuated while the helicopter squadron stayed behind at Subic Bay to fly humanitarian missions. This was challenging as Pinatubo was still erupting.
“The ash from the volcano was very thick, six to eight inches on the ground,” Dill said.
The weight of the ash had collapsed the roofs of buildings. Dill said the ash was grayish-white and the ash-covered landscape looked like the arctic.
“The volcano just kept blowing,” Dill said. “People wore masks to keep from breathing it. It was nasty.”
Flights included taking volcanologists close to the volcano to observe it at times when it was less active. The pilots had to be careful not to get ash sucked into the helicopter engines as it would damage the engines. Dill said that flying through ash could also damage the leading edge of a helicopter’s rotor.
“We spent a lot of time trying to clear ash of the ramp so they wouldn’t blow it all over the place when they took off and landed,” he said.
It eventually got so bad that they had to evacuate.
Over time Dill became more and more involved in maintenance management.
“I picked up a knack for that,” he said.
He said that he got help from staff sergeants and gunny sergeants who mentored him. Later, after he made staff sergeant, officers urged him to apply for the warrant officer program. Later, as a CWO3, he had the opportunity to go into the limited duty officer (LDO) program and was promoted to captain. LDOs are commissioned officers who are technical specialists.
His service took him on two tours of duty to Iraq. The first was in 2005 and Dill described the situation as “intense.”
“The base we were on was still taking indirect fire two or three times a week,” he said.
His second tour, in 2009, was different.
“I went back and it was all quiet,” he said. “We were the last aviation logistics unit there and we were tasked with pulling everything out.”
On his last duty station, as a major, he was in charge of maintenance for a V-22 Osprey group that consisted of six operational squadrons and one training squadron.
Dill made his decision to retire last year, after 27 years in the Marine Corps. He was just one rank shy of the highest rank, lieutenant colonel, he could achieve as an LDO and he noted that it was getting harder to keep up with the younger guys.
He supervises integrated logistics support on the V-22 with Bell, something similar to what he did on active duty.
“I still support the guys I supported when I was wearing a uniform,” he said.
Looking back, he’s glad he decided to join the Marine Corps. Dill said that it gave him the opportunity to do things other people only dream of doing.
“In 27 years I went all over the world,” he said.
The Marine Corps also introduced him to his wife. She was a Marine, an aviation store keeper, at one of his duty stations. Dill said she gave him the parts he used to maintain the helicopters.
“The time went by quick,” he said. “It just seems like yesterday I was on the yellow footprints [in boot camp] getting screamed at by a drill instructor,”
During his service he received a number of awards, including Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Ground Maintenance Officer of the Year, when he was a warrant officer, in 1999, and Marine Corps Association Aviation Ground Maintenance Officer of the year, as a captain, in 2005.
He resides in Dallas, Texas. His parents are Robert C. and Janice W. Dill, of Bedford.