Supporting aircraft generation

by Lt. Col. Lou Marnell
86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

We’ve all seen the pictures of maintainers launching and fixing aircraft, but there is an important unseen element that makes all of that happen.

In the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the Sortie Support Flight is responsible for equipping maintainers with the tools, equipment and support items that enable us to generate combat airpower every day. These maintainers are also responsible for packing out our UTCs, enabling us to deploy wherever tasked. They also manage several programs, including hazardous waste, bench stock, spare tools, vehicles, aircraft equipment and a number of other areas vital to our success.

Support personnel are selected from eight different AFSCs throughout the squadron and typically will be assigned to the section for two years. Here, they will be trained in checking tools and equipment in and out, conducting inspections and assigning programs to conduct daily operations. While checking tools in and out may seem pretty mundane, in the aircraft maintenance career field, every item that goes to the flightline has to be accounted for. If an item is lost on the flightline, it will bring the mission to a halt until the search is conducted and the tool is found. These Airmen are the last line of defense in making sure we maintain positive tool control.

The other big mission of this important flight is to pack up our equipment and deploy it at a moment’s notice. This team can pack out all the tools and equipment we need to support our combatant commanders in a very finite amount of time. While we have exercised this with Operation Readiness Exercises, the team successfully packed out in support of the embassy crisis in Libya. 

Tech. Sgt. Robert Knowles leads 10 Airmen, covering 24/7/365 operations on the flightline. His team is responsible for the management of more than 30 programs. He was responsible for leading our professionals in packing out tools and equipment to support several real-world operations as well as maintenance recovery teams. They ensured we had everything we needed to generate combat airlift for AFRICOM missions. Additionally, his team manages a 300 item equipment account and more than 1,700 tools. 

With the winter weather upon us, one of the additional challenges we face is aircraft de-icing. Equate this to clearing off your car in the morning and add the challenge of an aircraft with critical flight controls.

Staff Sgt. Derek Bennett has filled the role of our vehicle NCO and maintains a fleet of 33 vehicles, including 12 de-ice trucks, which are a critical piece of our winter operations. These trucks allow our squadron to de-ice not only our C-130J fleet, but also the operational support aircraft and any transient aircraft that fly in and out of Ramstein. He helps develop vehicle requirements, liaises with the professionals in the vehicle readiness squadron to keep the winter fleet ready to go and develops training plans for all of our special vehicles. With the importance of mission accomplishment and the stringent host nation hazardous waste laws, it is important that these assets are running at peak performance.

Finally, Senior Airman Michael Lasko maintains one of the most critical programs in our operation. He is responsible for the Hazardous Materials Program as the hazardous waste and unit environmental coordinator. His span of operations includes support to 27 assigned aircraft across five different locations on base. He helps ensure we stay stocked with all hazardous materials to accomplish our mission and then dispose of them properly. If he didn’t ensure that we have the sealant, oil, hydraulic fluid, cleaners and other essential materials, it would bring our operation to a halt.

As you can see, it takes an amazing team of Airmen behind the scenes to put those aircraft in the air and deliver the beds, beans, bullets and people our warfighters rely on to support our combatant commanders. Thanks for letting me brag about a couple of them, and thanks for all you bring to the fight!