RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
One of the keys to mission success in the Air Force is readiness. Unfortunately, equipment or machinery don’t always make that easy. When an aircraft breaks down or malfunctions at a base or area that isn’t equipped to fix the problem, what can be done?
Within the European, Central and African commands (EUCOM, CENTCOM, AFRICOM), the answer to that question is sending a mission ready team (MRT), often manned by Airmen assigned to the 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Four 721st AMXS Airmen experienced this first hand when they participated in an MRT for an engine change of a C-17 Globemaster III from Sept. 2 to 9, 2016 at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait. There were only two maintenance Airmen assigned to Ali Al Salem, so they required assistance from the 721st AMXS Airmen.
“It was definitely stressful to do,” said Tech. Sgt. Shaun Leahy, 721st AMXS assistant section chief, who was a part of the MRT. “Your main mission is focused on changing that engine. We’re in a deployed location, its 130 degrees outside, so we’re ready to fix the engine and get out. But we keep it safe and do everything by the book. Overall, it was an amazing experience.”
Often times an aircraft flies with its own assigned flying crew chief (FCC) who can repair as needed. But sometimes repairs, such as an engine change, arise that cannot be completed by one person, or a particular part must be flown to the FCC for them to be able to fix the plane. When these problems occur, Airmen assigned to the 721st AMXS are tasked for the job.
“I think it’s huge,” Leahy said. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but when a plane gets stuck out in the middle of nowhere, and it needs to get fixed, they primarily call us-- that’s a pretty big deal. I feel like it’s one of those unsung jobs that a lot of people don’t realize happens.”
When the 721st AMXS Airmen are tasked with an MRT, there is no room for failure.
“If we want to get home, it has to be successful,” said Leahy. “All of our MRTs are very successful when it comes down to it. We’re there to fix the plane. We go out as a full force and we’re well prepared when we’re getting deployed.”
The best part about being assigned to an MRT is a change in pace from the everyday work on the flightline or in the office, said Leahy.
“A lot of the time I sit behind a desk, so reconnecting with the work creates a sense of purpose,” he continued. “You’re out there completing the mission. It’s a really good feeling that you actually did something to help someone else, especially in the military.”
As an assistant section chief, Leahy not only participates in MRTs himself, but also delegates the missions to Airmen who fall under him. This provides younger Airmen with a unique experience to grow as maintainers.
“When my troops are in a situation where it’s stressful and they’ve got to get the job done, they pull through,” said Leahy. “All they have is their experience and training to get the plane off the ground. There’s somebody back stateside who needs this plane operational, and I’m asking a senior airman to fix it. In the overall scheme of things, it’s very cool.”
Much of the success of the 721st AMXS comes from the Airmen assigned to the squadron.
“Our success is built on having resilient and innovative Airmen who strive to improve our unit’s processes,” said Capt. Brandon Ray, 721st AMXS director of operations. “Seventy percent of our squadron are senior airmen and staff sergeants, and our successes reside in empowering them to lead while giving them mentorship, training, tools and advocacy necessary to execute our mission while developing the Airmen they lead.”
It may not always be easy for Airmen to see how their career fields impact the Air Force mission. For maintainers at the 721st AMXS, especially those who participate in MRTs, they can see a direct correlation between their job and mission success.
“It’s gratifying knowing what we are doing has real-world impacts,” said Ray. “It’s pretty fascinating to turn on the news and see something that our unit and Airmen directly influenced and know each day when you go to work, you’re going to make a difference.”