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Maintenance Airmen ensure rescue missions save lives

by Tech. Sgt. Oshawn Jefferson
U.S. Air Force Central combat camera team

4/20/2010 - CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- When aircrews and pararescuemen of the 41st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron here get a category-alpha alert call, the HH-60 Pave Hawk they use to conduct their mission has to be off the ground in 10 minutes.

Here, where rescue crews average five or six alert calls a day, the 43 Airmen at the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron helicopter maintenance unit turn their wrenches to keep helicopters flying so "That Others May Live."

"Our rescue missions lift off on the back of maintenance Airmen," said 1st Lt. Jonathan Schulz, the 451st EAMXS HMU officer in charge, deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. "We take pride in the fact that these Pave Hawks have to fly without fail, because our aircrews and pararescuemen are going out there to affect somebody's life."

From Feb. 1 until April 18, helicopter maintenance Airmen have helped rescue crews fly more than 915 sorties and log more than 650 hours. Those missions have resulted in 345 category A evacuations, 111 category B evacuations, 112 category C evacuations, 409 air-support missions, and 82 human remains transported.

Category A evacuations rescue missions are situations where a person is in need of urgent medical evacuation, or experiencing undo suffering where loss of life or limb hang in the balance. Category B evacuations are rescue missions where a person's injuries are stable, but the patient needs to be moved and category C evacuations are missions where injuries are routine, such as a twisted ankle or abscesses on teeth.

"If it wasn't for maintenance and support Airmen, the aircrews and 'Guardian Angel' team could not fly to recover wounded military and local nationals," said Maj. John Graver, a 41st ERQS combat rescue officer deployed from the 304th Rescue Squadron in Portland, Ore. "We all work here together as a team, in which everyone plays a vital role in the motto 'That Others May Live.' These HH-60 helicopter maintainers show extreme pride in keeping the helos flying during a very high operations tempo in a very harsh environment."

The maintenance Airmen who have witnessed as many as 26 sorties here in one day, spend an average 168 man-hours a week to ensure rescue aircrews are ready to fly when called on.

"Our guys have very little down time," said Tech. Sgt. Dennis Deaton, a 451st EAMXS HMU expeditor deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. "Our guys are out there and ready to perform the mission in all kinds of weather at anytime. We don't work on a regular time clock. When we get a call the aircraft have to fly, we put the work in to make it happen."

Flying at a utilization rate of three to four times more than at home station, Airmen are having to do 50-hour inspections, that usually take place every 1.5 months, every 1.5 weeks.

"At our home station our aircraft average about 35 flight hours a month," said Master Sgt. Terry Newsham, the 451st EAMXS HMU production supervisor and weapons specialist deployed from Nellis AFB. "In the month of March alone our helos averaged 85 flight hours. That means our aircraft require a little more of our attention out here and our Airmen are always on it."

"Our guys are proud to be a part of the rescue mission," said Lieutenant Schulz, a native of Snailville, Ga. "We have a tremendous impact on this area in Afghanistan and our helos have to fly when called upon. We know we have a big job to do and our guys will answer the maintenance call to duty so our crews can fly the missions that save lives."

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