Maintenance personnel behind the missions in Southwest Asia

By Staff Sgt. William Banton 386th Air Expeditionary Wing

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On any given day it is possible to walk down to the flight line of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia and see the unsung heroes of the Air Force.

The pilot who just spent a 14-hour day flying supplies to a forward operating base the world has never heard of.

The avionics technician who spent his day fixing an altimeter so it won't randomly fail during a flight.

The crew chief who just finished a shift of doing the monotonous maintenance crucial to keeping a 25-year-old C-130 Hercules in the sky.

And then, there are the supporters behind the curtain.

The Airmen of the maintenance operations center (MOC) are responsible for recording the mission capabilities of all aircraft under the 386th AEW purview. The information gathered helps analysts determine trends in aircraft maintenance needs, creating opportunities to preclude long-term problems. The information is also briefed daily to commanders so they can make decisions on flight operations.

"Basically our job is to know the operational status and location of every aircraft at all times," said Master Sgt. Terry Ogden, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron MOC controller noncommissioned officer in charge. "We compile data from multiple units and condense it, so leadership can have a strategic picture of what assets are available."

When an airplane returns from a mission, maintenance personnel and the aircraft's crew members have a debrief meeting designed to figure out if there were any mechanical issues that the maintainers need to be aware of. The information from these debriefs are formally filed in multiple databases and then reported to the MOC.

Senior Master Sgt. James Denney said this process is crucial to keeping the missions on schedule.

"It pretty much starts a snowball effect that will turn right back on us if we don't get [MOC] the right information [first]," said Denney.

This process requires a quick turnaround in aircraft maintenance work orders to ensure that the aircraft requiring maintenance is mission capable as soon as possible. Once the maintenance is complete, MOC can classify the aircraft in a ready status and provide leadership with information crucial to planning future missions.

The process is a system of checks and balances designed to prevent mission delays, said Denney. The MOC's job is to provide frontline maintainers access to a broad scope of information.

"Before I can determine an aircraft's status, I go through the MOC to let them know what our processes are then they can go through the minimum essential equipment lists and make sure I am making the right decisions," Denney said.

The lists provide a real-time update of the equipment available on station and a list of parts and tools available to maintainers. For example, this information would be crucial in determining if a unit had the appropriate resources to fully switch out a broken engine. Not having accurate information could directly affect scheduling aircraft for missions through incorrect classification of an aircraft's operational status.

"The goal is to ensure that we are being as accurate as possible," Ogden said. "Mistakes at this end affect how decisions are made, not only for leadership but for those working on the planes. We are charged with monitoring every aspect of aircraft because without this information, the mission could fail."


Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the National Guard website.