How the US Air Force maintains operational success
Airmen at aircraft maintenance squadrons around the service have begun innovating with new scheduling, accelerated hands-on training courses, and virtual reality simulators to get new maintainers proficient quickly; keeping more aircraft ready to fly and improving operational readiness.
We begin a continuing series of video vignettes at Travis Air Force Base, California, highlighting airmen who are successfully closing the aircraft maintainer experience gap.
Growing his replacement
Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Flynn, a 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant aircraft maintenance unit supervisor at Travis Air Force Base, California, is responsible for the approximately 300 personnel keeping 18 C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft mission-ready.
It is one of the Air Mobility Command missions that never sleep.
"Our mission never stops," Flynn said. "We are 24/7 and 365 days a year. The demand for rapid air mobility is constant and is never going to stop."
While the operations tempo has been fierce over the past decades of combat operations around the globe, Flynn, a 19-year veteran of the aircraft maintainer career field, plans to reenlist and shape the maintainer force of the future.
"My job is to create my replacement… There is an influx of new airmen that is putting a stress on the (noncommissioned officer) tier. They have gone from supervising two airmen to three, four or five. So, that means I am here at 0600 every day, catching the young staff and tech sergeants coming off night shift and those going on day shift and checking in with them; making sure I am approachable," Flynn said.
He utilizes the ups and downs of his own career maintaining B-1 Lancers and C-17 Globemaster IIIs and teaching electronic warfare navigation systems to relate to and support his NCOs and junior airmen.
"With this abundance of new airmen, it's very important to explain to them that this is not a 'One Mistake Air Force,'" Flynn said. "It is not only my job to set standards and expectations, but to talk to them about their mistakes, help them correct it and build them back up. I try to pass on everything I have learned, mistakes and successes, through those daily encounters."
"There was a point in my career where an NCO stuck his neck on the line for me. He said, 'airman Flynn is an asset to the Air Force and we should retain him.' I haven't looked back since. Immediately following that I got my assignment at McGuire (AFB) and taught two different career fields across multiple mission data sets for C-17s and C-5s. I definitely believe failing forward is a positive thing and that NCO sticking his neck out for me has made me want to do it for others."
Waypoints for success
"I really want to get my degree and go the officer route. If given the choice, I definitely would become an aircraft maintenance officer. I would come right back here," said Airman 1st Class Raeqwon Brown, a 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-5M electrical and environmental specialist.
That's a big dream for an airman that has only been on the Travis Air Force Base, California, flightline for a few months and is still working on completing the core 5-level tasks to become a journeyman maintainer.
Yet, Brown's supervisor, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dantuma, is committed to turning that dream into an achievable goal.
"My immediate goal is to get him trained up to be a highly proficient maintainer, but the ultimate goal is to keep motivated airmen like him in the Air Force," Dantuma said.
"That is the good part of all the new maintainers coming in from tech school; I get to train new maintainers the way I know they need to be to benefit to the mission. … If he is willing to put in hard hours and focus every day on learning the aircraft and procedures, then I will help him map out the steps he needs to take to become an officer."
It is just the kind of support that has Brown feeling as if he has found a home.
"It is a great reassurance to know that a noncommissioned officer would even consider showing you the waypoints to getting a degree and becoming an officer. … Even in the short amount of time I have been in the maintenance realm, I feel this is what I would want to do for the rest of my career," Brown said.
A1C makes good
Airman 1st Class Caitlin Good is a KC-10 Extender crew chief assigned to the 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California.
According to her command, since her arrival to the unit in July 2018, Good has excelled.
She's excelled so much that, with the assistance of supervisors, other noncommissioned officers and experienced airmen, she was 100% complete with her 66 core 5-level upgrade tasks in three months.
"From day one, it was support from the supervisors on my team and the other airmen that have been here for a long time. We're the same rank, but they have a lot more knowledge and experience. They were all a big help to me," Good said.
"The NCOs made sure that I was there and I was seeing it, doing it hands-on and doing it frequently. Just a lot of repetition, making sure that I did something over and over again to make sure I got it."
As a result, Good was granted a unique waiver from attending the four-month long Maintenance Qualification Training Program, which all newly-assigned crew chiefs normally go through.
In addition to her already stellar performance, she was selected to join the ranks of flying crew chiefs, which most airmen do not accomplish until two or three years into their first KC-10 assignment.
She continues to excel by helping close the aircraft maintainer experience gap; spreading her knowledge and experience to waves of new airmen filling out the career field.
"There is a lot more pressure because you are a 5-level now. You're expected to be in a leadership role," Good said. "We just got a fresh new group come in from our first phase of training at the Field Training Detachment.
"When we catch a jet, I'll tell them and show what we do and some tips that I've learned to make the job quicker and more efficient. Basically, just passing on what I've learned to the new group that's coming in, and there are three more groups coming in after them. But, I get more repetitions as I train them and try to be an example for them, trying to be kind, be patient, just like everyone has been with me."
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.