(WTOL) - Defending the homeland is the top priority of the United States Navy. Its fleet of aircraft is key to achieving that mission.
Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval station in the world.
Built in 1917, it's home to the Navy's firepower: submarines, aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers and more than 100 aircraft.
Local hero Airman Wesly Richmond works on the base in a hanger that houses several of the Navy's workhorses. His job is to maintain one of the largest and heaviest helicopters in the Navy, the MH-53.
"I would say the MH-53's job is a pretty massive one, and it's a pretty relevant one. It plays a big role in keeping the seaways clear of mines, and sailors alive," Airman Richmond said.
Since the 1980's, these 36,000-pound birds have been responsible for airborne mine-counter measures, sweeping the ocean's floor in high-profile areas for dangerous explosives designed to take out ships.
"There is not a single aircraft like this thing in the entire U.S. fleet. It's the best-kept secret in the U.S. Navy," Airman Richmond said.
Most of the Navy's choppers are based out of Virginia. Each chopper has a different role.
Take the H-60, for instance. It's much smaller than the MH-53 and hovers several hundred feet above the ground, making it key for combat missions and water rescues.
Without mechanics like Airman Richmond, none of this would be possible.
"Sometimes it feels unreal, waking up in the morning and thinking, 'Man, I get to touch a $3 million engine every day,'" said Richmond.
Airman Richmond spent his teenage years in Toledo. After working at an unfulfilling factory job, the 25-year-old wanted some direction for his life, which lead him to a Navy recruiter.
"I was a mechanic prior to this, so mechanical things weren't strange to me. But an aircraft engine was definitely a foreign concept," Richmond said.
He has spent a year-and-a-half in the Navy and has found his passion, but there is one part of Ohio that he misses.
"As much as I hate to say it, I'm starting to miss the snow. It doesn't snow much out here," Richmond said.
But he wouldn't trade what he does for anything.
"For one, I love my country," he said. "And two, it's just fun."