Maintaining the mission: Airmen step into the boots of crew chiefs

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Like many U.S. Air Force Airmen, Staff Sgt. Stephanie Gillie had never stepped foot on a flightline. Her job never gave her a reason to, as she was previously stationed at the Air Force Academy and currently works on the support side of base, here.

But on April 3, 2019, the 52nd Security Forces Squadron investigator helped with the launch and recovery of F-16 Fighting Falcons. Her participation was part of the 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s new Crew Chief for a Day program, which allows military members the opportunity to experience what maintainers encounter on a daily basis.

Gillie shadowed Senior Airman Jose Pagan, 52nd AMXS assistant dedicated crew chief. They met for roll call at noon and worked until after dark. The day consisted of aircraft inspections, launching and recovering jets, and interacting with pilots.

Getting to see all the work that goes into launching aircraft, and working with those who directly support the mission, was eye-opening, said Gillie, who volunteered for the program.

 “It was neat to see all those people work together so fluidly to get everything to work,” Gillie said. “It was like watching a well-oiled machine.”

Gillie took the opportunity to learn as much as possible from Pagan. But the fast-paced work introduced challenges she was not used to.

“If I were to work in that career field,” Gillie said, “it would honestly be very challenging for me. I think it’s more so at the pace they move. And it’s very black and white — not that they don’t have any creativity, but they’re strict as far as following everything to the tee.”

However, Pagan and other maintainers work hard and seem to have a passion for their job, Gillie said.

“Going to a different squadron and actually seeing what they do, and how hard they work, gives you an open mind and better understanding,” Gillie said.

And that is what the program was designed to do.

“Having Airmen come out and get the perspective of crew chiefs, work out in the elements, and get their hands dirty — I think they’ll understand what we deal with day-to-day,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Dunkle, 52nd AMXS section chief.

The program, which launched in March 2019, takes place Wednesdays and is scheduled to be a year-round opportunity, Dunkle said. It is open to all Airmen, but targeted to staff sergeants and below.

“I hope that maybe they’ll empathize the hours we work out here,” Dunkle said. “A lot of times it is very difficult to get away. Maintainers don’t have normal lunch breaks, they just have to work with the flying schedule.”

Giving Airmen this opportunity helps them understand their tie to Spangdahlem’s mission of airpower deterrence and readiness.

“It ties into the mission by giving people that don’t work on the flightline a bigger picture of the mission the 52nd Fighter Wing actually performs,” Dunkle said.

Gillie agreed.

“A lot of the time we don’t understand why we do what we do,” Gillie said. “But getting to see the people that work on the flightline, and working directly to get the mission done, helped me realize what I’m protecting and how important it is.”

Gillie recommended the program to everyone, especially to younger Airmen unfamiliar with flightline operations.

“This program was definitely an eye-opening experience,” Gillie said. “It can be for everybody. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”