SOUTHWEST ASIA – A flying crew chief is a position that requires more than just donning a flight suit and becoming an aircrew member. It's also about diving headlong into solving any unanticipated maintenance issues that may occur while in flight and getting the mission back on track.
For Senior Airman Edwin Rodriguez, the opportunity to become an active member of the aircrew presented both new challenges and greater job fulfillment.
"When you fly with the crew, you get a different sense of accomplishment than you get working ground maintenance," said Airman Rodriguez, 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron FCC. "If something breaks, you turn that wrench and work until the problem is fixed and the mission can continue. As an FCC, if there's an [aeromedical] mission and the plane is delayed because of maintenance issues, it's up to me to get the plane back in the air and get the wounded home."
Becoming a flying crew chief is not an instant transition upon completing upgrade training as a jet mechanic. A qualifying airman must instill in his leadership a confidence to get the job done and bring a well-rounded understanding of the aircraft's capabilities and how to overcome any maintenance issues surrounding it.
"Once you gain the trust from your supervisor, chief and commander, your name is submitted for the FCC position," the airman said. "Leadership needs to sign off your selection to the program. They take into account your job performance and [the type of person you are]. You then go to a 6-week class where you learn all about being an FCC."
Airman Rodriguez was a C-17 jet mechanic for five years before his name was submitted to become an FCC. During those years as a jet mechanic, he became very familiar with commonplace problems associated with the aircraft.
"To become an FCC, you have to qualify in your [Air Force Specialty Code] and you have to have a good understanding of what the aircraft can do and have a real understanding of all the moving parts on it," said Airman Rodriguez, deployed from the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, S.C. "Having seen a lot of problems and dealing with them makes it easier to both identify problems and rule them out."
An FCC needs to be able to think quickly and read a problem accurately. While everything is located in the work manuals, being well acquainted with them is key.
"A lot of it is [on-the-job training] and it's based on how well you can think on your feet to come up with a solution - which is all in our books but you need to be able to reference that quickly," the airman said.
Deploying directly after certifying as an FCC, Airman Rodriguez faced the challenges of working in a new capacity and new environment.
"At first, it can be a lot to take in but as long as you're calm and confident, you'll be okay," he said. "I got qualified and came straight here to do the job for the first time. I get to see an entirely different side to the maintenance mission."
While there are still new challenges the airman is met with when dealing with the aircraft, his knowledge and experience gives him the confidence to work through an identified problem and find a resolution.
"The most important thing is to focus on safety so we safely and effectively generate the aircraft for missions," Airman Rodriguez said. "I'm qualified to be able to troubleshoot and provide maintenance for the jet in order to fix it. Knowing the crew has confidence in me gives me the drive to stick with a problem until it's fixed."
Having a crew chief on board also gives the aircrew a sense of ease when they are traveling to airstrips that are not conventional or do not have maintenance support.
"It's good to have someone backing you up, to have a maintenance perspective, if we have any issues," said Capt. Ryan Manter, 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III aircraft commander. "They'll help out the aircrew to try and keep the mission on track."
Since deploying as an FCC, Airman Rodriguez has a larger understanding of the affect maintenance has on not only the aircraft involved but the people who rely on its ability to fly.
"Working maintenance, you really bleed and sweat over getting the aircraft off the ground," said Airman Rodriguez. "But as an FCC, you get a wider perspective of the impact we have. I know that the plane is part of something important and you see the impact it has to the guys that are downrange."
Overall, the airman believes that becoming an FCC not only makes him a better airman, but also a better person.
"The biggest take away from this deployment is the amount I have learned. All the people I have met have made an impact on me," Airman Rodriguez said. "I'm a better person and airman because of this experience. All the new people I work with now and all the knowledge they have to share with me makes me better than I was yesterday."
This work, Flying crew chief keeps crew airborne, by MSgt Stacia Zachary, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.