News: Follow Me: Yokota airmen assist transitory aircraft on the move
Story by Yasuo Osakabe
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan - When transiting aircraft land and taxi on the airfield at Yokota Air Base, Japan, "Follow-Me" vehicles immediately lead them to designated parking spots. Although this happens daily at Yokota, taking care of aircraft regardless of their origin is what transient alert does.
The 374th Maintenance Squadron Transient Alert conducts the mission 24/7 and provides vital assistance to aircraft and crew members. Transient alert at Yokota handles on average 150-200 aircraft a month and 2,000 aircraft a year.
"Our primary mission is to support any and all aircraft landing at Yokota that are not stationed here," said Tech. Sgt. John Lyon, 374 MXS Transient Alert maintenance section chief. "We provide a “Follow-Me” service to all transient aircraft and act as a maintenance liaison for the aircrews."
Transient alert not only provides servicing and maintenance support for U.S. military aircraft, but also aircraft transiting through Yokota Air Base, including Japan Self-Defense Forces, United Nations Command Rear and commercial aircraft. With a variety of nations transiting through Yokota, Lyon said he doesn’t find the language barrier problem when communicating with foreign personnel.
"Luckily, English is a universal language that most pilots and maintainers use around the world, so we're able to get through most conversations pretty well," Lyon added. "A lot of the time, the [foreign] personnel passing through will be accompanied by someone who speaks English. Our mission with the JASDF here on base is one that really lets us work side by side and learn some of our host nation's culture and language."
The day starts for transient alert with a pre-mission request from base operations, providing information on transient aircraft arriving and departing Yokota each day. The request is logged into their system, along with any special requirements, including fuel needed or distinguished visitors onboard.
The teams are familiar with the daily requests and aircraft handling, according to Lyon, but one of the challenging aspects for transient alert is dealing with last-minute diversions.
March 11, 2011, one of the most devastating earthquakes and tsunamis to ever hit Japan disrupted flight operations at several Japanese airports, including Tokyo's Narita International Airport. In response to the crisis, Yokota Air Base became an interim landing site for 11 aircraft that were diverted from quake-stricken airports.
"Operation Tomadachi was a great example of the outstanding work and dedication these guys here at transient alert are known for," Lyon said. "Immediately after the earthquake, members of the shop had to jump into emergency-response mode as the base had to set up and support 11 commercial airliners diverting here. Alert members who were off-duty quickly responded to support ongoing operations."
That night, base operation and transient alert rolled into Operation Tomodachi and started making parking plans for contingency aircraft parking, he added.
His team worked around the clock supporting Navy C-130H; Marine CH-46 Sea Knight, SH-60 Sea Hawk, UC-35 Citation, C-12 Huron and KC-130 Hercules; Air Force MC-130 Combat Shadow, MC-130 Combat Talom, HH-60 Pave Hawk and C-130 Hercules; as well as Royal Australian Air Force C-17s and Royal Thai Air Force C-130s. A number of cargo, troop and distinguished-visitor movements were also supported by his team, according to Lyon.
"Overall, while it was a tragedy that the tsunami happened, it was humbling to have an opportunity to support our host nation in such a way," Lyon said, looking back on the Operation Tomodachi.