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Integrated maintenance plays key role in Checkered Flag 17-1

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sean Weygandt, 391st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, pulls hydraulic and oil servicing carts across the flightline at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 16, 2016. During exercise Checkered Flag 17-1, maintenance personnel from several units and different airframes integrated their skills and efforts to make the mission happen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sean Weygandt, 391st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, pulls hydraulic and oil servicing carts across the flightline at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 16, 2016. During exercise Checkered Flag 17-1, maintenance personnel from several units and different airframes integrated their skills and efforts to make the mission happen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

With more than 90 aircraft participating in Checkered Flag-17-1 and Combat Archer 17-3, keeping them in the sky can take a huge toll on the men and women in the maintenance sector.

To complete this tasking, maintenance Airmen from several units and different airframes must integrate their skills and efforts to make the mission happen.

“By forcing these folks to integrate, it creates a huge academic learning environment,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Rivers, 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron commander. “[Just as there is] diversity of the aircraft and aircrew with their mission capabilities, [there is a] very similar story with the ground folks as well. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes action that goes on between weapons, ammo and crew chiefs working together and sharing resources.”

While combining Checkered Flag and Combat Archer may present some challenges, the training Airmen receive is vital and allows them to provide for today and prepare for tomorrow.

“It’s invaluable -- to be able to coordinate with so many airframes in such short notice,” said Airman 1st Class Dylan Kronebusch, 391st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament systems technician from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. “It just shows the effectiveness of the United States Air Force. Every day, we [train] out here. So that when we actually go downrange, we do our job to the best of our abilities.”

Each unit participating in the exercise brought their own group of highly skilled maintainers to help ensure mission success.

“Maintenance is important because these jets wouldn’t be flying if we weren’t here,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Gallegos, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.  “We’re here to fix these planes and get them up in the air, so the pilots can do their mission. It makes me feel good, the fact that I’m providing a safe aircraft for the pilot, so when he goes up there and does his training sortie, he’s safe.”

With each unit being specialized, communication and sharing resources is vital to integration success.

“We don’t really integrate people much; we integrate processes and potentially equipment,” said Master Sgt. Shannon Wadas, 391st AMXS lead production superintendent. “When we got here, one of our tankers didn’t make it, and we didn’t have all of our tools, but we were able to talk to [Shaw AFB Airmen] and get the tools we needed to facilitate our recovery.”

As challenges such as time, space, coordinating logistics, de-conflicting the ramp and sharing resources arise, communication is the key, Wadas added.

The combination of exercises, forces units to be more proficient with resources, allowing more to be accomplished in today’s fiscally constrained environment.

“[It is important] to find niche areas where we can get the maximum amount of training for the least amount of cost,” Rivers said. “Together with a massive amount of aircraft and live munitions, you couldn’t ask for a better academic environment for massive integration.”