News: F-22 crew chiefs ORE, real-world ready
Story by Siuta Ika
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- At Holloman, the 49th Wing’s mission is to fly, fight and win by forward deploying when called upon to support ongoing combat operations with combat-ready airmen; training aircrews and support personnel of remotely piloted aircraft to be mission ready for immediate combat action; and training, equipping and certifying F-22 Raptor forces in order to conduct these type of operations anywhere, anytime, for any combatant commander.
In order to accomplish the wing’s mission, the entire base participates in numerous exercises throughout the year -- particularly, the operational readiness exercise.
From organizations like the 49th Logistics Readiness Squadron to the 49th Medical Group, every unit in the wing plays a role in ORE success; however, members of a particular squadron truly have a vital role in ensuring ORE and real-world operational success, said Lt. Col. Anthony Nance, 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander.
“The reason why we participate in OREs is to test the wing’s ability to go to war,” he said. “When a base exercises its combat capability, it really comes down to the crew chiefs on the line preparing and generating their aircraft. Our crew chiefs are focal points for ensuring mission ready aircraft are available and configured to meet the task at hand.”
“There’s a whole host of support that goes into helping crew chiefs get their job done, but primarily, it rests on the shoulders of our crew chiefs,” Nance said, “They’re on the line, executing the multitude of things that go into getting aircraft ready and off the deck. With current world tensions, our wing could get a call at any time and we must be ready to go.”
The main focus of an ORE or a combat-preparation scenario for the 7th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chiefs is F-22 generation, said 1st Lt. Michael Mattingly, 7th AMU officer in charge.
“The generation piece is ensuring the pilot has a safe, combat-ready aircraft to meet that pilot’s mission requirements,” he said. “In a sense, an ORE is our report card for how well we can prepare and provide our pilots with an operational-ready aircraft, because when it comes down to it, our main goal is to ensure that our operators have the tools they need to go to war.”
For F-22 crew chiefs, OREs offer a change in the day-to-day maintenance routine, said Master Sgt. Jason Wollerton, 7th AMU Airframe Power Plant General Section non-commissioned officer in charge.
“For day-to-day maintenance, we are responsible for refueling, defueling, launch, recovery, hydraulics, brakes, tires, flight control surfaces, inspections, engines, and engine runs for trouble shooting purposes,” he said. “We do all that for aircraft generation, but there are also other things we don’t do on a day-to-day basis. For example, we don’t fly with external tanks very often, but during generations, we load them.”
Although aircraft generation offers crew chiefs a change of pace, it’s what they were trained to do.
“Launching sorties for training or putting statics in place for base tours is one thing, but the basis of what our crew chiefs are trained to do is to prepare their aircraft for a wartime mission,” Nance said. “These superstars are eager to tackle this, and the wing will see this amazing capability displayed during the ORE.”
Another term used to describe crew chiefs during aircraft generation is facilitator, said 2nd Lt. Jason Hall, 7th AMU assistant officer in charge.
“They’re the overall caretaker of the aircraft, so they’re the enabler of making things happen,” he said. “Whatever discrepancy exists, they’re going out and fielding it. They obviously perform routine maintenance, but they facilitate accomplishment of the entire mission set, so whether it’s coordinating with specialists, weapons, back-shop repairs; whatever it is, they’re coordinating with agencies to make sure aircraft are prepared for the mission.”
To ensure all of Holloman’s F-22s are operationally ready at a moment’s notice, crew chiefs routinely work 12 or more hour shifts.
“They’re in three hours before the first scheduled takeoff, so if takeoff time is [6 a.m.] they’re here for roll call at [3 a.m.],” said Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Gaines, 7th AMU superintendent. “They don’t get to leave to go to lunch, and even the guys who are on meal cards will get boxed lunches from the flight kitchen. The only time they get to eat is in between jobs.”
Because they put in so many hours, they may sometimes be overlooked, Mattingly said.
“I think the amount of work they do is not put out there enough,” he said. “A lot of times we forget their importance because they make the job look easy. But when you look at a jet, you’ll have two names on it -- on one side is the pilot’s name and on the other side is the name of the dedicated crew chief. There is a ton of responsibility that comes with the job title.”
Often times the relationship between operator and maintainer can be arduous, but at Holloman, that relationship is exceptional, Nance said.
“I think there is a deep mutual respect between our pilots and crew chiefs,” Mattingly explained. “Every time a pilot gets in the jet, they are essentially putting their lives in the crew chief’s hands. Pilots put a lot of trust and faith in our maintainers in general, and in return we maintainers trust and respect the position our pilots are in.”
And with that trust and respect, Nance said crew chiefs also embrace the responsibility bestowed upon them.
“Because of the level of responsibility laid upon them, crew chiefs are a very proud bunch,” Nance said. “For me it has always been about three primary areas -- attitude, effort and reputation. My entire team out there is maintaining a good attitude, their level of effort is where it needs to be, and in return, we have a solid reputation that lets our leadership know that if they call upon us, we’re ready!”
For Nance, attitude, effort and reputation will pay off during the upcoming ORE and in his troops’ future areas of responsibility.
“Having been an AOR squadron commander, every day the focus was on ensure the air tasking order was met,” Nance said. “Having seen how this works in a combat zone, where it matters the most, and now getting to rehearse it here, there is no doubt in my mind as to the value of exercises in maintaining our sharp edge.”
“I think Col. Krumm (49th WG commander) is exactly right when he said, ‘OREs are not popular because they’re tough, but we do the tough things to make us better,’” Nance said. “That’s where we get our pride, is in knowing that when the boss says, ‘49th AMXS -- time to generate some Raptors. Are you ready to go?’ I can look him in the eye and say, ‘Yes, we are ready. We’re ready to answer our nation’s call.’”
During OREs and real-world combat situations a crew chief may be asked to take on a significant workload, Wollerton said, but that’s what a good crew chief looks forward to and they rise to the challenge every time.
“It takes dedication, integrity and toughness to be a good crew chief, because a lot of the time we have it pretty rough,” he said. “Occasionally we get a break and we take advantage of it. We work hard, we get dirty, and put in a lot of hours, but nothing can take away that feeling you get when you see your aircraft -- with your name on the side -- take to the sky and put bombs on target. It makes it all worth it.”