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Dutch F-16 crew chiefs make the mission happen in Afghanistan

July 25, 2011 (by Sgt. Richard Andrade) - A vehicle convoy on its way to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, comes under attack; immediately the convoy commander calls for an air strike. Once the F-16 fighter jet crew chiefs get the word, they know exactly what to do and rush to the airfield to prepare F-16s for launch to assist the troops on the ground.

RNlAF Lt. Col. Marten 'Jimi' Hendriksma of Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands, commander of Air Task Force-17, based out of Volkel AB, taxis down the flight line in an F-16AM #J-135 from 322 sqn before conducting a mission from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on June 24th, 2011. [USAF photo by Sgt. Richard Andrade]

The possible scenario is likely to happen in Afghanistan, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force crew chiefs assigned to Air Task Force-17, based out of Kandahar Airfield, are ready to prepare the fighter jets at a moment’s notice. Crew chiefs are essential to the aircraft, especially when lives are on the line.

On KAF, the crew chiefs assigned to the RNlAF, ATF-17, based out of Volkel Airbase, the Netherlands, work long hours and due to their unconventional schedule, have to be flexible in case of a change in mission. The job requires them to work under pressure to resolve any last-minute issues with the fighter jets to get the mission accomplished. They are involved with every detail of the plane pre and post flight.

The Dutch have supported the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan since 2002. The F-16 Fighting Falcon jets conduct reconnaissance missions and provide close-air support to ISAF elements throughout Afghanistan.

"The mission of the task force is to be the eyes of the ground forces from above," said RNLAF Lt. Col. Marten "Jimi" Hendriksma, commander, ATF-17.

He said they have to be ready for any mission at any given time but, "It's not like starting a car, you can't start an F-16 and take off with it."

The crew chiefs prepare the fighter jets so when the pilots arrive, they can do a final inspection and go on to the mission at hand. Hendriksma said he is grateful for the crew chiefs on his team and said the mission cannot go on without their support.

RNLAF Sgt. Joeri, who could not give his last name, of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, assigned to ATF-17, has been in the Dutch air force for four years and said he loves his job as crew chief. He and the other crew chiefs maintain the aircraft and perform pre and post-flight safety inspections. He said he is fully aware his task force plays a large role in Afghanistan supporting the ongoing international joint operations so they can safeguard ground personnel.

Joeri is on his first Afghanistan deployment and said he is accustomed to the hot-working conditions by now.

He said the dust has been the biggest obstacle to his deployment. On one occasion, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter came in for a landing real low and close, producing an immense dust cloud headed to where he and the other crew chiefs were working.

"All the dust came straight for us, we ran for it so we would not be covered in sand,"Joeri said.

Despite the dusty landing of the helicopter, Joeri said he enjoys watching the different aircraft flying in and out of the airfield.

Every morning the crew chiefs check fluid levels, tire pressure and ensure there is enough liquid oxygen in the jet before the pilot conducts final inspections.

Prior to any mission, the pilot walks around, physically inspecting the aircraft. Then the crew chiefs assist the pilot into the cockpit, checking gauges and meters during startup so the pilot can taxi out ready to take care of mission.

The jets usually fly in pairs, and upon returning from an assignment, the crew chiefs begin recovery of the aircraft. Once the jet returns to KAF and is back in the hangar, the crew chiefs perform a thorough examination looking for any possible damage that happened during its flight.

Originally from Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands, Hendriksma has been to Afghanistan two previous times. He said he has seen progress in the country with each deployment.

Hendriksma said the pilots have to be able to trust their crew chiefs one hundred percent, prior to any mission.

"We demand quite a bit from our crew chiefs, due to last minute mission changes, compared to what we demand back home," Hendriksma said.

He said he appreciates their professionalism and said it is nice to see real teamwork among the crew, adding that no jet fighter would launch and missions could not be accomplished without the hard work of his crew chiefs.

Courtesy of 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Additional images:

RNlAF Lt. Col. Marten 'Jimi' Hendriksma of Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands, commander of Air Task Force-17, based out of Volkel AB, performs a pre-flight inspection on an F-16 before going on a mission on June 24th, 2011. [USAF photo by Sgt. Richard Andrade]
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