Quality Assurance: Maintenance commander's "eyes and ears"
By Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 24, 2013
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Aircraft maintenance requires a high level of proficiency and job knowledge to fulfill mission requirements prepared by combatant and coalition commanders. These skills are monitored and inspected regularly by some of the career field's most knowledgeable maintainers found in the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group's quality assurance agency here.
"We cultivate a foundation of safety and compliance by providing leadership and subject matter experts an assessment detailing the proficiency and quality of maintenance personnel," said Master Sgt. Christopher Wilson, the 379th EMXG quality assurance chief inspector deployed from Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
With 14 inspectors from 12 bases across five major commands, quality assurance has the wing covered as they're responsible for training and inspecting the more than 1,100 maintainers rotating through every six months on five different airframes.
Wilson added QA evaluates the quality of maintenance accomplished and performs necessary functions to manage the wing and group's Maintenance Standardization Evaluation Program. The MSEP provides an objective sampling of the quality of equipment, the proficiency of maintenance personnel, and the compliance of lead command and unit MSEP focus areas, programs and processes.
"Maintenance is dynamic here," Wilson said. "With so many Airmen coming from so many different organizations and major commands, it's truly a testament to the effectiveness of the total force integration concept."
The master sergeant said QA has four main programs they maintain for the wing. These include technical order distribution for all the maintenance units across the wing, production improvement management, the maintenance standardization and evaluation program and the wing foreign object damage and dropped object prevention programs.
Not only is the 379th EMXG's QA shop accountable for maintenance Airmen here, but also for nearly 40 accounts across five forward operating locations in the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility.
"As updates to technical orders come down from the major command and higher headquarters, we work with every joint task force agency across the AOR to get them the TOs they need to complete their missions," said Master Sgt. Kevin Nolan, the 379th EMXG QA production improvement manager deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
Relating technical orders to Chilton manuals for cars or "How-To" videos on YouTube, Wilson described their processes like he would to his teenage son:
"Simply, we inspect people doing their job, their equipment and the job's processes," Wilson said. "When we do an 'over-the-shoulder' inspection or personnel evaluation, we determine how well people are accomplishing their job, how well they're trained and how closely they're following those 'Chilton' manuals or TOs."
These inspections allow production improvement managers to develop trend analysis reports that evaluate deficiencies and/or malfunctions within the job or processes in order to come up with a solution effectively saving the Air Force money.
QA serves as the primary technical advisory agency in the maintenance organization, assisting maintenance supervision at all levels to resolve quality problems. The evaluation and analysis of deficiencies and problem areas are key functions of QA that highlight and identify underlying causes of poor quality in the maintenance production effort.
"These reports allow us to analyze what caused the malfunction and figure out how to fix it for the future," Nolan said. "By finding these errors we're able to save the Air Force money."
Nolan said during 2013's second quarter, QA saved the Air Force $12.4 million.
"It's like Wal-Mart," Nolan explained. "Wal-Mart doesn't make the things they're selling, but have vendors supplying them with their goods and when a customer has an issue with something they purchased, Wal-Mart works it out with the responsible vendor."
In the same way, the Air Force acquires tools, equipment, supplies and aircraft parts from various vendors across the world to complete the mission. If supply receives a part that doesn't meet the specifications contained within that aircraft's TOs, then QA steps in to figure out how to address the issue.
"Wal-Mart has the second largest supply chain in the world," Nolan said. "That's second only to the U.S. Department of Defense."
At the end of the day, QA briefs the 379th EMXG commander as the inside experts in the field working around the clock to make sure maintenance Airmen are operating under the "safe, secure and reliable" theme that has become commonplace across the Defense Department.
"We're the maintenance group commander's eyes and ears across every maintenance facility on base," Wilson said. "We make sure the 379th EMXG are the best and proudest professionals in the Grand Slam Wing."