By Darrell Todd Maurina
Cannon Air Force Base is a finalist for a top Air Force award — the best maintenance group in Air Combat Command.
A team of inspectors visited the base last week to decide whether Cannon should be recognized.
According to Col. Mark Atkinson, 27th Maintenance Group commander, Cannon has shown a 20 percent improvement in mission-capable rates for its entire fleet of F-16 airplanes and a 19 percent improvement in its not-mission-capable rates.
Those improvements came despite a quarter of the maintenance group being deployed to Iraq — an event that usually hinders rather than helps improve readiness numbers.
Those statistics helped put Cannon in the running along with two other bases for the Daedalian Award, the award the command presents to its best maintenance group.
“This is the first year Cannon Air Force Base has ever been a finalist for this award,” Atkinson said. “Because Cannon’s location does not necessarily inspire people to want to come to Cannon, we believe when people look at us, see the mission capable rates, if we get named the best maintenance group in Air Combat Command, we hope to able to attract the best and brightest maintainers.”
Maintainers don’t get a lot of limelight, but Atkinson’s command has the largest number of personnel at Cannon — 1,770 enlisted airmen and 31 officers — and if it isn’t performing properly, planes can’t fly.
“The 1,800 maintainers in the maintenance group are among the hardest-working people in our country and their efforts over the last year have taken Cannon Air Force Base from a very average maintenance organization into the premier maintenance level,” Atkinson said. “Our job is to fix airplanes. There is always at least one airplane broke, and without the young people who fix airplanes, the airplane doesn’t have gas, don’t have bombs, don’t have systems that work and there’s nothing for the pilots to fly.”
Chief Master Sgt. Bob Bove credited Atkinson’s strong emphasis on teamwork for bringing about the performance improvements and said the Air Force succeeds by teaching young people who are already mechanically inclined how to assume significant responsibility at an early age.
“The Air Force is all about fixing and flying airplanes,” Bove said. “A lot of young kids are looking to do something for their country, an opportunity to learn a trade, and the Air Force provides that.”
“I don’t think the 18-year-old kid in any other profession would be able to work on an aircraft worth around $20 million,” said Maj. Scott Tew. “The young folks are confident; they know they are out there doing their job. There is an experienced maintainer out there with plenty of stripes to give them a hand when they need it.”
In addition to improving the base’s combat readiness statistics, Atkinson said airmen at Cannon also are showing initiative by learning to perform several technical maintenance tasks that usually are done only at much larger bases, and also have cut the intensive 300-hour overhaul inspection from 11 to five days.
“Cannon is markedly different and markedly better than most Air Force units,” Atkinson said. “When you’ve got old guys taking care of young guys, involved in their lives and helping them learn, it’s great.”