August 18, 2006 (by SrA Eydie Sakura) - While most participants involved in Exercise Viper Lance 2006 at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, Romania, call it a day at sunset, the workday is just beginning for maintainers on the night shift.
Senior Airman Richard Bates (left) and Staff Sgt. Mark Pastian download a training missile from an F-16 Fighting Falcon on Aug. 18 during Exercise Viper Lance 2006 at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania. The Airmen are weapons load crew members with the 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
Of the more than 250 Airmen here for the air-to-air and air-to-ground training exercise, roughly 170 support the maintenance mission.
Viper Lance 2006 is an air-to-air and air-to-ground training scenario with the Romanian air force and their MiG-21 pilots. The exercise marks the first time Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons pilots have trained in the country.
"Our mission is the same here as it is everywhere," said. Capt. Bill Reynolds, 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron officer in charge of maintenance. "We support [flying] operations and we provide safe and reliable aircraft."
To make sure the mission runs smoothly, Airmen work three shifts to orchestrate the successful launch and recovery of the F-16 Fighting Falcons.
During the summer months, many maintainers prefer the night shift to avoid the heat and sun, the captain said. With temperatures reaching into the 90s each day here, the setting sun comes as a welcome relief for the maintainers who work into the night.
"Generally the night crews work the harder problems if the day team cannot get it fixed," he said. "They have the time, opportunity, and tools to fix the jets since the day crews deal more with the launch and recovery of the aircraft."
Among the maintenance Airmen here, support technicians monitor the accountability and serviceability of tools and equipment.
"We have about 750 various tools and pieces of equipment that we're responsible for, but at home we manage thousands of tools. We only bring what we need," said Staff Sgt. Carissa Robles, a 22nd EFS support technician on nights. "We issue the tools to the crew chiefs, avionics, or whomever needs them and it's our responsibility to make sure everything's in good condition and ready for them to use."
Senior Airman Joshua Hood, a 22nd EFS electrical and environmental systems specialist, depends on the tools and equipment the support team provides. His job is to make sure the F-16's air conditioning, steering, landing gear, and electrical systems are functional. Airman Hood has found no matter where his shop is located, the mission, quality of the work, and people are no different.
"I had no idea the caliber of the troops we have at the [22nd EFS] until I started deploying to these exercises," Airman Hood said. "The attitudes of maintainers never falter; the mission is to always do
whatever you need to do to get the jets in the air."
Captain Reynolds agreed, and said he sees a lot of integration between those on the flightline and back-shop troops.
"They are a solid team on and off duty," the captain said. "They are spending a lot of time together, and we are focused on one thing here -- the mission."