News: 376 EAMXS keep air refuelers flying
Story by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – Troops on the ground in Afghanistan are supported by pilots flying A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, B-1 Lancers and more in the region. Flying to and from mission requirements, the aircraft inevitably begins to use up its fuel supply. KC-135 Stratotankers, flying out of Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, are used to provide air refueling to aircraft so they can continue their mission. But who ensures KC-135s are able to continue their refueling mission?
That's where the 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at the transit center comes in.
"The mission in our unit is to support air refueling," said Master Sgt. Chris Wietecha, 376th EAMXS hydraulic technician. "We get gas down to the combat pilots downrange."
Wietecha mainly works in hydraulics, replacing parts, performing routine service checks and maintaining hydraulic systems. He helps out the crew chiefs that marshal aircraft to get them ready for the next flight. If an aircraft has any malfunction, his unit specializes in working the individual systems of the aircraft. They work everything from the air refueling boom in the KC-135, to the multipoint refueling systems.
"It's a real team concept how we blend it all together," he said. "We break out of our specialties and help each other out. It's working really well."
The maintenance squadron services aircraft that give close air support for the military branches and special operations in Afghanistan. Wietecha's role with the squadron carries a twist—he spends about every other month working in Afghanistan.
"It's really neat," the native of Riverside, Calif., said. "It puts the mindset in you that this stuff is happening. You're working 12 hours every day until the day you go home. It's high tempo based on the amount of flights and how fast we're turning jets. They land and within a few hours we've got them back in the air."
"Sometimes it's more stressful," said Staff Sgt. Kayla Reeh, 376th EAMXS instrument and flight control specialist from Suisun, Calif., who also serves every other month in Afghanistan. "But it's really a good feeling that there are people on the ground getting air support, and we're the reason the air support is even able to be there. Right now, turning wrenches and fixing airplanes is what I love to do. I love my job."
Wietecha and Reeh work directly with the special operations units. They get to see the pilots that fly the aircraft they help maintain.
"When I'm in Afghanistan I really feel like I'm part of the mission," Wietecha said. "I get to be out there turning wrenches with the younger guys, which is pretty neat. I actually put in a request to extend up to another 120 days.
"I love doing the hands-on stuff," he said. "It gets me back to the grass roots of it all. Being in Afghanistan is an eye-opener on how much of an impact we really have. Being at the Transit Center, we're seeing the troops that are going to their missions. Knowing that the aircraft we're sending up are supporting the aircraft that are keeping them safe on the ground; it touches your heart."