By Darrell Todd Maurina
Personnel at Cannon Air Force Base have won many awards over the years, but until this year the trophy cases at Cannon never included the Daedalian Award for aircraft maintenance.
Maintenance isn’t just a routine function for fighter aircraft — even small problems can lead to massive equipment failures at the high speeds and severe stresses experienced during military maneuvers. Due to its importance, the maintenance group is Cannon’s largest unit.
Now the 27th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group has earned not just one but two Daedalian Awards. In November Cannon won recognition for having the best maintainers in Air Combat Command. On Thursday, officials learned Cannon’s maintainers have been named the best in the entire Air Force and will represent that service in competition to be recognized as the best in the entire Department of Defense.
When Col. Mark Atkinson arrived to command Cannon’s maintainers, he set his sights on making them into an award-winning unit at the 17-base Air Combat Command level. However, even he didn’t expect the maintainers to win recognition as best in the Air Force.
“We had 1,800 people working for one common goal, and for us to win this at the Air Force level is to achieve beyond expectations,” Atkinson said.
“Across the country young people may get bad press, but the young people who care enough about their country to sign a contract to serve are a different sort,” Atkinson said. “The bottom line is a lot of great young people are here.”
Chief Master Sgt. Bob Bove said winning the Daedalian Award required group leaders to impress on a large group of young people the importance of doing things right and doing them right every time.
“We get a bunch of young people from all over the country, you’ve got to meld together as a team,” Bove said. “It pays off when young guys work hard, follow the book, and they’re safe, and it translates to winning an award like this.”
One of those maintainers, Airman 1st Class Cheryl Barker, said she picked up on that message early.
“When we are putting jets in the air and pilots’ lives are on the line, we need to be 100 percent sure we are doing everything right,” Barker said. “When I first got here at Cannon Air Force Base I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Air Force, but I started to notice that the Air Force has extremely exacting standards. Basically it’s old guys taking care of young guys and making sure they can meet the standards.”
Airman 1st Class Jennifer Apps said keeping statistics was crucial.
“We were trying to establish management by metrics starting from the beginning,” Apps said. “We got with everybody to show them what they were doing to just kind of make our numbers better. We compared ourselves to every base and we were showing (the numbers) at our meetings. I think that helped with what we were doing.”
Maintenance group members didn’t just figure out how to do the same procedures more efficiently — they developed an entirely new inspection program that Master Sgt. Thomas Thackrah said cut the time needed for a 300-flying-hour checkup from 11 days to five.
When it came time to present those successes to the evaluation team, Lt. Col. Scott Tew said the group didn’t rely only on its senior officers. Instead, it used junior enlisted members to explain the changes and show why they worked.
Tew said that innovative presentation method worked.
“Our tone was different from the others,” Tew said. “They didn’t want to hear from old guys.”
While awards are important, Atkinson said his best feedback comes when people trained at Cannon are moved to other bases and start applying what they’ve learned.
“We get phone calls every day from (bases) all around the world that ask us, ‘How have you accomplished the great things you are doing?’” Atkinson said. “Winning the award is positive affirmation of two years of hard work by special people at Cannon Air Force Base.”