News: Alaska National Guard aviation maintenance ensures mission readiness
Story by Balinda O'Neal
CAMP DENALI, Alaska— Flying more than 70 hours across Alaska up to 300 hours in theater overseas per week, the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is an integral part of the Alaska National Guard’s mission to support operations in the field day or night.
With a high number of missions in the state depending on these helicopters, it is the responsibility of the Alaska National Guardsmen in aviation maintenance to keep the ‘birds’ in the air.
“We keep the maintenance up on these aircrafts and keep them mission capable,” said Spc. Amber Hillman, B Company, 1-207th Aviation, helicopter mechanic. “These birds need to be ready to go out the door for any mission that arises.”
The soldiers of aviation maintenance are charged with ensuring that all Alaska Army National Guard aircraft remain safe and ready to fly in order to meet the Guard’s support needs.
Hillman has spent the last five and a half years in aviation maintenance doing everything from engine disassembly and repair to serving as an aircrew member.
“I enlisted in the National Guard to have a career in something that I could build off of,” Hillman said. “I always liked mechanics and the Black Hawk was something different that really intrigued me.”
With more than 27 years in aviation maintenance, Alaska Army National Guard Sgt. Maj. Marc Petersen has witnessed firsthand how the Guard’s need for the aircraft has expanded.
“Every year the operations tempo is increasing,” Petersen said. “We are typically on standby for floods in the spring, fires through the summer, floods again in the fall and a lot of avalanches. Between training for mobilizations and state and federal support within Alaska, we stay pretty busy.”
The high tempo of state missions cross over to missions in theater. Black Hawks must be ready to transport troops and cargo, aid in medical evacuations and anything else required to support deployed operations.
“Deployments are more mission capable and your bird has to be ready right then,” Hillman said. “If there happens to be a Black Hawk down, you have one or two ready to fly out behind it. We do whatever it takes to get the job done and get these birds 100 percent mission capable and ready for their next mission.”
With most National Guardsmen training only one weekend a month, two weeks a year, deployments are also a time for a soldier’s growth.
“Most of the pride I have for my soldiers comes from deployments,” Petersen said. “Not only do you witness their morale and how much they enjoy their job, but it’s amazing to behold the experience they gain in nine to 12 months and see them bring it back to Alaska.”
Pilots might be known for being synonymous with aviation, but it is the job of the Alaska Army National Guardsmen of aviation maintenance that keep the Black Hawks ready for action.
“It’s a great field to be in for anybody wanting to get into the military,” Hillman said. “Aviation maintenance is the way to go.”