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Home : News
NEWS | March 23, 2007

Maintainers keep Guard aerovacs flying to Balad and back

By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith National Guard Bureau

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - Thousands of coalition forces who have been injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom have been flown to modern medical facilities thanks to people who can turn a wrench.

That's right, a wrench. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of aeromedical evacuations (aerovac), it takes tools and technicians to keep aerovacs in the air. Aerovacs need well-maintained airplanes, which include the Air Force's C-17 Globemaster III. The C-17s have flown many wounded warriors to lifesaving medical care.

Maintenance technicians from the 172nd Airlift Wing, Mississippi Air National Guard, are on duty here to make sure their eight C-17s are in tip-top shape for 12 aerovac missions a month.

Ramstein is an overnight stop for the 172nd when it flies Soldiers, Airmen and Marines out of Balad Air Base, Iraq to medical facilities in Germany and U.S.  Members of the 172nd have flown more than 350 aerovac missions from their base in Jackson, Miss., since October 2005.

The Air Guard maintainers volunteer for 60- to 120-day deployments. Together, nearly 40 Airmen fuel and perform regular maintenance as well as troubleshoot the C-17 on the Ramstein flight line.

"We feel like we have the top mission," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Kennedy, a crew chief. He said he doesn't mind if he's on the flight line turning a wrench in the cold at 3 a.m. because that's the least he can do to get a Soldier to medical care.

Being from a warm, southern climate, the maintainers confess that Ramstein's winter weather is a challenge, but they said their biggest challenge is the busy flying schedule and the high maintenance tempo that goes with it. They employ a 24-hour operation seven-days a week to maintain the aircraft between flights.

"We really turn jets," said Capt. Tyrone Williams, the officer in charge. "Ramstein is one of those places where you get it running fast." But he said they also fix the jets, not just put them in the air. "They have a blue, Mississippi tail flash on them and belong to us, and we hope to have them for a long time," he said.

The wing is the first Air Guard unit to fly the C-17, and its maintainers boast a mission capability rate of more than 90 percent.

The C-17 is the newest and most modern cargo plane in the Air Force. Therefore, maintaining it involves more troubleshooting with computers than turning nuts and bolts. They can often reboot the aircraft like someone would reboot a computer to fix it. In other cases, they conduct extensive troubleshooting to fix what's wrong.

The maintainers also call on the 723rd Aircraft Mobility Squadron at Ramstein for a hand. The Air Force squadron provides workspace and equipment to the Air Guard maintenance people. 

Williams said the two units work well together and that the 723rd is a "gracious host."

It doesn't matter to the Air Guard maintainers who turns the wrenches. What matters, they said, is keeping the aerovacs flying.

"We don't want anything to go wrong and delay anything," Kennedy said, "but when it does, and we fix it, that's where we get our job satisfaction."