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Maintainers keep Cope Thunder going

by Staff Sgt. A.C. Eggman
Cope Thunder Public Affairs

10/13/2005 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Tucked away in an office on the far corner of the Thunder Dome, two men ensure Airmen and Sailors get Cope Thunder 06-1 missions off the ground -- on time and on target.

Without the oversight of Col. Mark Fluke and Chief Master Sgt. Darrin Dwyer, exercise Cope Thunder would, theoretically, only be a ground-combat exercise.

Their job is make sure maintainers take care of work-related issues and all Cope Thunder maintenance personnel have the resources necessary to ensure their aircraft are 100 percent mission capable, despite the Alaskan location.

“This is the first ‘winter’ Cope Thunder,” said Colonel Fluker, the 52nd Expeditionary Maintenance Group commander from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. “It entails real challenges such as bringing jets to a cold weather environment to operate.”

Most of the maintenance challenges do to weather are minor leaks and broken seals, he said. But there are other challenges – getting people to understand the difficulties of operating in a cold environment.

“We need to do things safely,” the colonel said.

This year, the Pacific Air Forces field training exercise is being held later than usual. That means maintenance personnel and aircrews are mostly operating in darkness.

“Flying at night presents its own challenges -- like practicing employing night time sorties -- but that works well for most units,” Colonel Fluker said. “This is a spin-up for (Air Expeditionary Force) 9/10 for many units and they need to practice their night sorties.”

The exercise allows maintenance units the chance to work in a semi-joint status. The Navy is also participating, learning how to work with different units or platforms with which they may deploy.

While many people think 120 degrees when they hear deployment, not everyone will end up in that type of weather, said Chief Dwyer, the group’s superintendent, who is from Alaska.

“We have to be ready to go anywhere, any time,” the chief said. “Any time you are TDY (on temporary duty) to train, you don’t have all the distractions, extra duties, family and friends -- you are totally focused. It’s our rehearsal time.”

The exercise also allows maintenance teams to learn the faces and names of the people they may deploy with January, the chief said.

“They are learning how they can help each other,” he said. “This playground helps us prepare.”

The maintainers are also learning how to work together and whether they packed the right tools and equipment. They are also learning how critical it is for the aircraft to take off and on time, and making sure jets are 100 percent mission ready.

“It’s training, it’s a classroom,” Chief Dwyer said. “Some times it’s the little things that have the greatest impact.”

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