War on Terrorism

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Guard members critical to flying operations

By Staff Sgt. John Wright
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (6/3/11) - When the pilots of a C-130 Hercules from the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here found themselves grounded outside the gates of a forward operating base due to a malfunction on a recent April day, the need quickly arose to get the plane out of there in a hurry.

Within one hour, a Maintenance Recovery Team comprised of four maintenance Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here were on their way to the broken aircraft.

What was to be a routine brake repair job, turned out to be anything but.

The crew had almost completed repairs on the aircraft when a 122 millimeter rocket blasted into the ground less than 150 yards behind the plane. Small arms fire erupted as personnel from the nearby FOB began engaging insurgents.

Not missing a beat, the MRT quickly set up security for the aircraft and continued their repairs.

"An MRT's mission is to get in and fix a broken aircraft as soon as possible," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris White, 455th EAMXS maintainer. "Concentrate, get the mission done like you're trained to and get out."

White, along with Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Reading, Air Force Tech Sgt. Donald DeBord and Senior Airman Donald Pruitt, all 455th EAMXS maintainers were part of the four-man team that came to the grounded C-130's rescue that day.

MRTs typically have three to four Airmen and are comprised of only the best and most experienced maintainers.

While each team member has their own specialty, they are considered a "jack of all trades" and have a working knowledge of how to fix almost anything on the aircraft. Each team is customized to meet the needs of the broken aircraft and can be dispatched at a moment's notice, with or without security.

"It's ideal to have a security escort, but if not, we can set up our own security like we did that day," Reading explained. "We take pride in being able to perform our job in less than ideal situations."

However, while the MRT can provide its own temporary security on the ground, the team knows true security comes from getting the C-130 back in the air as soon as possible; and that is the team's main focus.

For the C-130s pilots, having the luxury of knowing an MRT can fix the aircraft and help get them out of a potentially deadly situation is comforting.

"We don't worry," said Air Force Lt. Col. Kolb Jornsen, 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron Chief of Aircrew Tactics. "When they come in to get us we have every confidence in the world they can get it fixed no matter what it is. We know they'll get us out of there."

According to the seasoned pilot deployed from the 166th Airlift Wing in Delaware, the MRTs are not only a luxury, they're a vital necessity.

"MRTs are vitally important," he said. "If we get a plane that's broke, we need to get that plane back here as soon as we can to get that mission going. If we lose a plane, we lose a mission; some unit doesn't get their food, ammunition or medical supplies."

Knowing they are directly contributing in getting vital supplies to the battlefield or bringing home wounded comrades from the battlefield is a great source of pride for the maintainers.

"Every time I see a plane I worked on in the air I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing I helped make that mission possible," White said. "It's a very rewarding job."

Each of the four team members are deployed from Air Force National Guard units and feel their varied backgrounds brings something unique to the fight.

DeBord owns his own aircraft.

"Ultimately, I'm responsible for my own aircraft, and I'm not going to fly it if I don't think it's safe. I feel the same way about the military aircraft I work on."

Pruitt tests the quality of his work against a personal standard: would he put his family on this aircraft?"

"We are all part of an Air Force family," Pruitt said. "You wouldn't put your family on something you didn't think was safe. I'm not going to let my pilots fly a plane that isn't safe."

Reading agreed with his Airmen.

"It gives pilots a warm and fuzzy when a maintainer fixes a plane and then gets on it," the sergeant said. "They know you'll get on because it's a safe product."

In an Air Force that starts from the ground up, the maintainers realize that combining safety and speed into aircraft maintenance is critical to the success of the flying mission.

After fixing the aircraft that day while simultaneously ensuring its security, the four MRT members had done exactly what they were trained to do: fix an aircraft in record time in a hostile environment and get it back into the fight; just another day on the job.

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