Six members of the 435th Contingency Response Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Flight integrated with the 48th Maintenance Group for F-15 hot-pit refueling training at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, July 18-28.
The training broadened the team’s scope of knowledge, enabling Airmen whose career field focuses primarily on heavy aircraft, to launch, recover and refuel the F-15 fighter platform.
“This unique flight contains USAFE’s only active four-airframe qualified maintenance flight, providing light, lean, and lethal support in contested environments for mobility air forces and combat air forces,” said Tech. Sgt. Hector Gonzalez, 435th CRS Aircraft Maintenance Flight team chief. “There are tasks that can be safely completed outside the scope of traditional job duties, but regulations of old have impeded the flexibility of our Airmen to perform those tasks.”
In a rapidly evolving theater, US Air Forces in Europe continues to emphasize its focus on enabling Agile Combat Employment. ACE is intended to ensure USAFE forces are ready for potential threats and contingencies by enabling forces to quickly disperse and continue to deliver air power from locations with varying levels of capacity and support. This concept requires the expansion of individual Airmen’s capabilities.
Agile Combat Employment is quickly becoming the standard across the US Air Force, and 435th CRS Airmen are integral to enabling ACE for USAFE.
“This training allows USAFE’s only CRG to support fighter aircraft on the frontlines,” Gonzalez said. “It also opens the door for future cross-wing exercises, preparing USAFE and EUCOM for the next fight.”
The 435th Contingency Response Group is USAFE’s only expeditionary open-the-base force. The group provides a scalable, cross-functional, rapidly deployable force designed to assess and open airbases and perform initial airfield operations enabling rapid standup of combat operations anywhere in the European Command area of responsibility.
The CRG’s role of being the first in to set up for operations generally revolves around the management and utilization of heavy mobility aircraft however, the 10-day training allowed the AMF maintainers to become qualified on several essential operations for fighter aircraft.
“In layman’s terms, we’re now not only able to receive cargo aircraft in contested environments to open and close air bases, we can now put fighter aircraft back in the fight, on the front lines,” Gonzalez said. “ACE is about pitching in. It’s about removing nuance barriers for basic tasks that can be performed outside of your AFSC. It’s about changing the way we train in-garrison, to prepare us for the next fight.”
The 435th CRG is no stranger to ACE operations. While many units are introducing the ACE concept into their training, the CRG has made it a top priority.
Airmen from the CRG were the first USAFE forces to mobilize in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, swiftly setting up an aerial port of debarkation in Poland.
“After the invasion, you can imagine the massive amount of airflow that would commence, but even our most experienced Airmen could not have anticipated the level of airflow we were about to receive,” Gonzalez said. “Maintainers were off-loading planes, security forces were helping marshal aircraft and porters were building tents. ACE is the CRG!”
Gonzalez sees this training as the natural progression for the future of his unit and looks forward to future opportunities to expand his and his team’s qualifications.
“What I love about ACE is we’re empowering tried and tested Airmen to fall back on their experience, and step outside the box,” said Gonzalez. “Our hope is we can continue to learn from one another, and provide future training opportunities much like this, to become proficient and continue that proficiency.”
Despite just recently adding a new airframe to their repertoire, the AMF already has their eyes set on the next step in expanding their capabilities.
“Our unit goal is to be maintenance capable on six aircraft: three heavies and three fighters,” said Master. Sgt. Donovan Reid, 435th CRS AMF production superintendent. “We just finished with F-15s and with more touch-time we will be moving to F-35s. The ultimate goal is being able to support a fighter, wherever we may be, by refueling and launching them to get them back into the fight.”