UNDISCLOSED LOCATION --
An F-15E Strike Eagle starts its engines drowning out all other sounds and conversation in the area. The pilot is communicating with an airman standing in sight of the cockpit with his arms forming an X across his chest. He marshals the jet out of the parking spot onto the taxiway after an operations check and salutes. The pilot returns the salute and the airman, holding down all fingers except his pinky and thumb, shakes his hand back and forth, a gesture to say ‘go get ‘em’. The airman is a crew chief assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron.
“My job as a crew chief is to launch and recover mission-essential aircraft,” said Senior Airman Anthony Willard, 332nd EMXS crew chief. “I service them, inspect them and make sure they are up to proper standards, as well as, lead and mentor the younger airmen.”
Crew chiefs are easy to spot, like most aircraft maintainers they almost always wear coveralls soiled with a mixture jet fuel and other oils, a reflective belt and have ear protection nearby. They are responsible for maintaining the F-15E Strike Eagles in theater from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
“I know what we do is eye-opening for a lot of the guys here and makes them realize that all the stuff we do back home, is for right now,” Willard said. “Although we miss our families the importance of our mission makes it worthwhile.”
These airmen are disciplined professionals and play a big part in defending the region and delivering decisive airpower.
“I am really proud to say that we have the best group of maintainers in the Air Force,” said Master Sgt. Kelly Matthew, 332nd EMXS aircraft section chief. “There is nothing these guys can't do. They make the mission happen every day no matter what is thrown at them. Whether it be bad weather or lack of parts to fix an aircraft, they figure out a way to keep us combat mission ready for any air tasking order we're given.”
Maintaining multi-million dollar airpower platforms on a daily basis is not easy, but for some crew chiefs the commotion is what drives them.
“My favorite part of my job as a crew chief is handling all the challenges we face,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Bower, 332nd EMXS crew chief. “Mixing and matching the jets with all the different parts and the organized chaos of getting jets up and down safely are some of what I like best.”
Bower added that crew chiefs take ownership of everything concerning the jets and oversee all maintenance.
“I provide and sustain combat-ready aircraft to bring the fight to the enemy,” Bower said. “It’s hard to be away from family, but it’s nice to do all this work for a particular purpose and not just a training sortie. This is our super bowl, when all the practice finally comes into the real play.”