News: Deployed maintainers keep F-16s flying
Story by Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multirole fighter aircraft. Highly maneuverable, F-16s have proven to be highly effective in both air-to-air and air-to-surface combat. To keep these critical air-power assets mission ready, the technicians of the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron provide 24-hour service to the F-16s at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
Most of the current 455th EAMXS F-16 aircraft maintenance unit personnel are deployed out of the 177th Fighter Wing Air National Guard base in Atlantic City, N.J. The unit is supported by more than 130 maintainers, consisting of 15 different air force specialty codes to keep the F-16s fully functional.
Capt. Joseph Leonard, 455th EAMXS F-16 officer in charge, said maintaining an F-16's mission readiness requires numerous system specialists, to include weapons loaders, propulsion, electro-environmental, and avionics to name a few.
Some of the airmen are trained in F-16 maintenance specialties that can take up to two years to get their first training skill level upgrade.
Leonard said all of the specialists are constantly learning and trying to perfect their trade.
For every sortie that goes out, there is maintenance to be done. Whether it is scheduled maintenance or unscheduled repairs requiring specialty AFSCs, the main goal is to make sure the jets are ready for their next mission.
"We successfully met our mission 100 percent of the time by delivering fully mission capable aircraft in support of more than 460 combat sorties, totaling more than 1,800 combat hours, since taking over the air tasking order in mid-December," Leonard said. "The maintainers isolated and repaired over 185 pilot-reported discrepancies. More than 125 of those reported discrepancies rendered the aircraft non-mission capable. If not repaired properly and in a timely manner, the result would have been a severe degradation in our unit's ability to meet the mission."
Most of the AFSC's in the unit fall under the title "crew chief."
"We are responsible for general maintenance and jet recovery," said Senior Airman Cody Passaro, 455th EAMXS F-16 crew chief. "The jet is ours. When it comes down to it, it is our responsibility at the end of the day. We do routine maintenance throughout the jet's life and last minutes checks before each flight. It's our baby, and we stick around after other shops have worked on it to make sure everything is okay."
Leonard said each member of the F-16 AMU embodies the core values of the Air Force: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
"This is my third deployment as an AMU OIC, and this is the most extraordinary and inspiring group that I have ever deployed with," said Leonard. "More than half of them have full-time employment at home but place service before self and volunteer to be here.
"They know the men and women in the air and on the ground depend on the work they do," he said. "Also, the low repeat fixes, and timely fixes, attest to their expert knowledge. It is truly inspiring."
The guardsmen of the aircraft maintenance unit take great pride in working together to ensure the F-16s at Bagram are able to continue their demanding close air support mission.
"It's a great thing to be involved with," said Senior Airman John Cardini, 455th EAMXS F-16 avionics specialist. "Because your team put a good jet in the air, you pretty much guarantee that as far as the jet's flying and fighting capability, they can complete their mission and come back to base. If they have to oppose other jets in the air...if other jets are firing at them, then a pilot's aircraft systems are going to work as advertised to get them back home as soon as possible.
Cardini said, "It's humbling...and it's awesome!"