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C-130 maintainers sustain mission readiness

by Staff Sgt. Shad Eidson
416th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs


8/16/2005 - KARSHI-KHANABAD AIR BASE, Uzbekistan (AFPN) -- A combined team of active-duty and Guard C-130 Hercules maintainers with the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron are keeping mission-capable rates for the base’s fleet in the high 90s.

The squadron, comprising active-duty Airmen and guardsmen working together as part of the air mobility team, directly supports warfighters by transporting people and cargo as well as performing airdrop missions.

"We have a good blend of Guard and active duty,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mike Stichler, 774th EAS maintenance superintendent deployed from the Ohio Air National Guard. “A really good crew handed over the operations and told us what's going on, what they've done (and) what we needed to give some attention to.

"The crew that just arrived is rolling right along. They work hard and have a sense of humor," he added. "I've seen Guard and active duty working together before but not as good as here. The Alaska unit is the best (active-duty) unit I've worked with. You just can't tell the difference between them. They blend so well."

This combined team’s synergy has produced a successful maintenance mission.

According to maintenance records, only one mission was canceled because of maintenance issues in the past month. With several missions flying daily, that translates into a more than 90-percent mission capability rate. Mission capability rates are a measure of the percentage of time an aircraft is capable of performing its designed mission.

"To be in the high 90s is outstanding," Chief Stichler said.

He said the combined team of maintainers works hard day and night to ensure C-130s are providing mission success for Operation Enduring Freedom.

"Everything works as it's supposed to. The crews, maintenance, parts -- everything's where we need it when we need it," said Staff Sgt. Martin Alvarez, a crew chief. "It has made my deployment really easy.”

Maintenance often means servicing the hydraulics systems. This means cleaning the aircraft, changing parts when needed and troubleshooting system problems. The 774th EAS has a variety of active-duty and Guard professionals who make this mission happen.

"The group of guys I have are outstanding to work with," Sergeant Martin said. "All (of them) are mission oriented. Everyone is well qualified, knows what they are doing and what needs to be done."

The combined maintenance team can handle almost everything except major structural damage. Usually depositions from a depot facility will tell maintenance teams what can be fixed here to get the plane flying again. Then, at a later time, a full repair will take place when the aircraft gets to a back shop.

On average, C-130s fly more than 150 missions every day in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, officials said. On Aug. 10, C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-130s provided intratheater airlift support -- helping sustain operations throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. About 150 airlift sorties were flown, moving nearly 3,115 passengers and more than 175 short tons of cargo.

But the hot weather and other conditions here take their toll, said Staff Sgt. Zach Havel, an engine mechanic deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. So far this year, engine mechanics have replaced 14 engines on C-130s here. When an engine is replaced the propeller is also changed. Separate from engine maintenance, mechanics have also had to change out an additional 14 propellers in the same time frame.

To keep the mission going, sometimes mechanics perform special maintenance repairs that are normally done in a back shop. These rebuilds cut down time and keep crews flying. The combined team of Airmen recently rebuilt a propeller's seals to prevent a trip back to Germany. This repair allowed the aircraft to quickly return to the mission’s rotation.

Airmen from the 774th EAS also work their maintenance magic in the field.

On his third day here, Sergeant Havel was selected to be on a two-person maintenance recovery team to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, to perform maintenance on a C-130 that could not fly back for repairs. A team is put together when a plane breaks at another base. The team members select their tools based on the problem and fly down for the repair job.

"You carry more than you need to because you never know what else might need to be fixed,” Sergeant Havel said. “If you have to wait for more tools, it is that much longer that you are downrange."

In July, he went with another team to Kabul, Afghanistan, to fix a valve housing that was out of limits.

"Fixing the flight allowed four dozen Soldiers to return home after their one-year deployment," Sergeant Havel said. "It also brought in their replacements."

"Everything you do every day makes a difference to everything here that we are supporting -- the war on (terrorism) and supporting our troops," said Senior Airman Dana Rosso, a 774th EAS crew chief. "It's not just our freedom. It's the Iraqi's freedom, Afghans' freedom -- (freedom) for everybody."



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