Airman 1st Class Jonathan Bish, of the 523rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit Weapons Flight, checks for damage to a launcher on an F-16 fighter jet Friday at Cannon. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.
By Darrell Todd Maurina
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — When asked how Cannon’s 27th Maintenance Group won the Daedalian Award for being the best group of aircraft maintainers in the Air Combat Command, group commander Col. Mark Atkinson didn’t hesitate.
For Atkinson, improvement succeeds or fails with the airmen on the flight lines and in the hangars doing the hands-on work, and success only happens when mid-level and senior enlisted personnel get motivated to help maintainers catch a vision for doing things better and faster.
“The principal reason for the improvements has been the senior (noncommissioned officers) grasping a basic philosophy of adherence to tech data, safety rules, and getting involved in young people’s training,” Atkinson said. “In the entire fiscal year, we had zero class A mishaps (which means) no loss of aircraft, no loss of life, no loss over $1 million, which is a significant achievement for any aircraft operation.”
Catching minor problems before they balloon into major disasters is the whole point of Senior Airman Jeremy Stacey’s work in phase support. After every 300 hours of flying time, the planes of the 27th Fighter Wing undergo a rigorous inspection by phase support personnel, who comb the plane from nose to tail with 400 specific maintenance checks. Procedure changes under Atkinson cut the time needed to do the inspection from 11 days to five, but without compromising the quality of the inspection.
“Our role is to find things before they break, before they become a problem,” Stacey said. “Bulkheads in the aircraft are designed to carry the loads and stresses. We inspect for cracks. If we don’t find them and outer bulkheads crack in flight, the airplane can come apart.”
Finding those cracks isn’t easy. Sometimes the only hint of a problem is a bit of grease where it shouldn’t be, and for the last three years, Stacey has trained to find tiny problems that could kill a pilot or destroy a plane. It’s a tough job, but Stacey pointed to a crack found just this past week as an example of how vigilant the maintainers have become.
Much of that training has been under the watchful eye of Master Sgt. Thomas Thackerah, who said Stacey is one of his hardest workers.
“If we’ve got to go to war, he’s one of the ones I want going over with us,” Thackerah said. “We’re not ones to toot our horn, but we want to be the best, and we want to turn out the best airplanes.”
Motivation is key, and Airman 1st Class Jonathan Bish said he trains hard as part of his weapons maintenance unit because he wants to be a small part of keeping America strong after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
At 29, Bish is older than many of his fellow junior enlisted personnel and he said being able to model a strong work ethic and commitment to his American patriotism is sometimes an advantage.
“The age factor does help,” Bish said. “I don’t take kindly to people attacking my country, and anything I can do to prevent Sept. 11 from happening again — or something worse than that — I want to do it.”
Bish said he tries to encourage his fellow airmen to remember the reason they’re in the Air Force.
“As far as my work, I love it; I’ll load bombs all day,” Bish said. “I wanted weapons because that’s what the Air Force is all about. If we can’t bomb people, we can’t do much.”