CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATION -- It's three in the morning, and alarm clocks are going off in the warehouse where the warriors are sleeping. Rustling sounds can be heard as the Marines begin to pull themselves out of the rack to begin another day.Outside the sun hasn't even begun to show signs of rising. A few scattered buildings stand silent in the near vicinity. A few hundred yards away from the warehouse, where Marines inside are still wiping sleep from their eyes, a handful of CH-46E 'Sea Knight' helicopters are parked in an orderly fashion on the tarmac. Their crew affectionately knows these helicopters, the workhorses of the Marine Corps, as 'battle frogs.'Sitting perched on their landing gear, their rotor blades slightly bent toward the ground as if they too had been resting, the aircrafts wait to be called into action.The Marines, out of the rack now, are dressed and ready to go. Within a matter of minutes, they are outside, walking to their 'birds' in the chilled morning desert air.Although today's flights aren't scheduled to leave until 6 a.m., in order to get the birds off the ground in time, these Marines are up hours early in order to ensure the aircrafts are ready and all safety measures are in place."We're the first ones there and the last ones to leave," said Sgt. Anthony Gomez, CH-46E crew chief, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (rein), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). "We go out and get our aircraft ready. We inspect to ensure it's safe for flight before the pilots actually do a pre-flight of the aircraft. It usually takes about an hour and a half to two hours."The crew chiefs spend hours methodically checking, testing and probing the aircraft for anything and everything that could go wrong. Also maintaining the CH-46Es are a number of mechanics, avionics and other specialized technicians."We are really fortunate to have such a dedicated crew. We have some outstanding technicians who really know the aircraft and its systems," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Ray Cordero, maintenance chief, HMM-166 (rein), 11th MEU (SOC). "They are dedicated and have pride in what they do. That's where the long hours come in."These members of HMM-166 (rein), a detachment from the MEU's Air Combat Element, are here supporting a monthlong military exercise in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Supporting the MEU's Ground Combat Element during training, these five aircraft and crew remain busy."We've made every launch that has been required. The Marines have been working hard," Cordero said. "During our last exercise, the Marines achieved roughly 263 flight hours with just five CH-46Es, which is half the assets of a (CH-46) squadron. That's a significant achievement." Marines from the ACE see their time away from the ships they call home during their six-month deployment with the 11th MEU (SOC) as a great opportunity to develop skills in the detachment's younger Marines."It causes a lot of the younger guys to step up, and they have," said Maj. Craig Kopel, ACE Forward Detachment officer-in-charge, HMM 166 (rein), 11th MEU (SOC). "You never knew what some of these guys were made out of. Then you get them out here where they don't have anybody taking care of them, and they find out they didn't need it and they're doing fine on their own. It gives them a chance to grow and develop skills they didn't think they had."Putting those skills to work, the crew chiefs and other technicians finish their checks on each aircraft. Once everything passes, they deem the battle frogs fit for flight. Next, the pilots get onboard and start going over their checklists. Within minutes, engines are rumbling and blades are beginning to spin. Another support mission is about to begin.Whether it is delivering Meals Ready to Eat, ammunition, equipment, troops or a countless number of other things, these Marines and their battle frogs are ready for the fight as America's 911 Force."We're out here to defend our country. That's what I joined to do. We've been training for a long time and we're ready to go," Gomez said. "We're going to continue our training, waiting on that call. We're ready, definitely ready."