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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Crew chiefs 'keep them flying' at Balad AB

April 29, 2005 (by Sgt. Lindsey Maurice) - As the sun beats down upon him, Airman Murphy wipes the sweat from his brow, spreading the layer of grease and oil from his hands onto his forehead. Consumed by the task at hand, he remains focused knowing his jet needs to be ready for takeoff within the hour. Suddenly his work is put on hold.

Recovery of USAF F-16C block 30 #86-0328 from 332 AEW Montana ANG that ran off the runway at Balad AB on July 11th, 2004. [Photo by Taco]

"This is Panther. Alarm red, alarm red. All personnel don your individual protective gear and take cover at the nearest shelter," booms a voice over the base intercom. He follows instruction and waits patiently for the "all clear" so he can eagerly dive back to his work. He is accustomed to such working conditions by now -- the extreme summer heat, freezing winter cold and pouring rain. The long hours and necessity to stop what he's doing and seek shelter are all a part of his routine. He is an F-16 crew chief. What he does isn't a job - it's a lifestyle.

"As a crew chief you have to enjoy working in the cold, in the heat and in the rain. You have to enjoy getting your hands dirty and putting in the long hours," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Perry, 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-16 crew chief, deployed from the 388th Aircraft Maintenence Squadron. "But seeing your jet take off two or three times a day and return home safely each time -- that's the real reward. Having that pilot climb out and say "Great job, chief" makes it worth it." With about 38 crew chiefs to maintain the F-16s at Balad, the maintainers are always busy. We have half the amount of jets here that we do back home and they're still flying just as many missions if not more, so it can get pretty hectic at times," said Staff Sgt. Robert Baldwin, 332nd EAMXS assistant flight chief. "We always have to be on top of our game here. There isn't room for errors."

As crew chiefs, Airmen need to have basic knowledge in all systems related to their aircraft, including its avionics, weapons and electrical systems.

"An F-16 crew chief is like a NASCAR crew chief," said Sergeant Perry. "We have to know what we're doing and act quickly."

Some of the tasks crew chiefs are responsible for include towing aircraft; basic postflight, preflight and walk around inspections of the aircraft; acceptance and transfer inspections, ground handling operations, launch and recovery, and aircraft maintenance. But as Sergeant Baldwin noted, these tasks take time to learn and lots of training to become proficient in them.

Every crew chief has to graduate two technical schools totaling nine months of training before they can claim their title. Then, like in every Air Force career, they have upgrade and on-the-job training as well.

"The work these guys are putting out here is phenomenal," said Sergeant Baldwin. "We deployed with half our people still doing career development courses awaiting upgrade to 5-or 7-level or just graduating technical school. In the short time we have been here, they have not only had to dive into their jobs but make sure they study for upgrade as well. They're all doing great."

Sergeant Baldwin especially noted the "one team, one fight" mentality all the crew chiefs carry here.

"There really is a lot of work that goes into every jet on the flightline," said Sergeant Baldwin. "We usually put in about 12-14 hours of work a day. But everything we do, we do as a team. We start our day together and we end it together. We're a family out here."

So come heat, cold, rain, endless days and alarm reds, the crew chiefs of the 332nd EAMXS remain focused on the mission and continue to make sure their jets take off and come back safely every day.

Courtesy of 332nd AEW Public Affairs Republished with kind permission of Hilltop Times.

Additional images:

Close up of nose art on USAF F-16C block 30 #87-0328 in a hardened shelter while still at Balad AB, Iraq in late 2004. [Photo by Taco 44]

USAF F-16C block 30 #87-0328 parked on the tarmac at Balad AB, Iraq in late 2004. [Photo by Taco 44]