Mass. Air Guard maintainer views sheet metal work as art

By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith National Guard Bureau

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Airman 1st Class Jose Lozada Jr. believes aircraft structural maintenance is more than just repairing physical damage.

“I’d describe it as art,” said Lozada, a sheet metal technician with the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, I am going to put this panel here and be done with it.’ No, it’s about actually fabricating this piece of metal to make the jet look nice.”

In addition to just looking nice, Lozada said what ultimately drives him to do the best work he can on the F-15 Eagle is that it supports the pilot and the mission.

“We [maintainers] keep these beautiful planes in the air, making sure the pilots come back home safely,” he said. Lozada added that removing corrosion, replacing broken nut plates or repairing structural components are just some of the tasks he and his fellow maintainers perform in support of the wing.

His love of fixing things, however, didn’t begin with fighter jets. It started in a garage with race cars his father worked on.

“I used to watch what he did and always asked a lot of questions as to why is he doing things a certain way,” said Lozada, who would continue receiving informal training from his father and working side jobs too.

Armed with some automotive body and repair experience, he enrolled in a vocational high school that offered auto body repair courses. He said it reminded him of spending time in his father’s garage.

“I just started reminiscing about my father and the classes became easy for me,” said Lozada. “Most of the instructors kept asking me, ‘Did you do this before?’”

After graduating, he worked in car dealerships, auto repair shops and parts stores for nearly a decade when one of his bosses, who happened to be a member of the wing’s security forces squadron, posed a life-changing question to him.

“He asked, ‘Why not do something that you love in the military?’” recalled Lozada.

The results of military aptitude testing proved what he already knew: He had a strong understanding of mechanical topics.

“I was expecting to excel at it, but my overall goal was to surpass the score that I thought I was going to get,” said Lozada. “It was a piece of cake.”

He enlisted, and upon returning to Massachusetts after the Air Force’s structural maintenance school, he found himself in an aircraft hangar surrounded by F-15s, an environment that deviated from the auto repair shops he was used to on the civilian side.

“What really changed for me is there is more attention to detail here,” said Lozada. “It’s the little [thing] that doesn’t seem like a lot, but really does mean a lot. Missing one thing could cause a disaster.”

Yet his civilian jobs in auto repair, he said, continue to provide a strong foundation to build upon in the military.

Having that general knowledge, Lozada said, of determining the kind of tools to use, how to properly and safely use them, and what to initially look for on a jet stems from the basics he learned when working on cars.

Whether he’s in a civilian or military capacity, he said, repairing or replacing structural parts on a jet or car is about bringing things back to their original form, or, as he described it, their “natural state.”

Doing that, Lozada said, allows for “better performance [from] the jets and vehicles and maintaining them ties both my jobs together.”

But the camaraderie he feels inside a hangar, he said, is hard to match in the civilian workplace.

“It’s more professional here at the wing and the Airmen are more supportive when it comes to learning new things,” said Lozada. “But even after you learn something, they’ll encourage you to try new ways of getting the job done quickly and effectively.”

A little more than a year into his enlistment, Lozada said he anticipates a meaningful career as an Air Guard maintainer.

“Working on a jet still leaves me speechless,” he said. “Just to even think that I went from something so small [automobiles] to working on something so big.”

Lozada said he also sees himself opening an auto body repair shop. He even has a name in mind: “The Humble Guys,” which, he said, reflects his past and also his future.

“To see where I came from and how I started and where I am today, it’s really been a learning experience,” said Lozada. “And whenever I see somebody who needs help, I lend them that helping hand and push them forward so they can excel and reach their goals and be who they want to be.”


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