Fixed right; ready to fight
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- In order to maintain its war fighting capability Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, must have a certain number of F-16s ready to go at a moment's notice, and the Airmen responsible for ensuring this are the dedicated men and women of the 51st Maintenance Squadron Phase Docks. This committed and skilled team work depaneling and inspecting all standard carded items such as the wings, landing gear and fuselage as well as performing preventive maintenance on the jet as a whole.
The normal timeline for this in depth work is roughly 10 to 12 days at a stateside base, but here at Osan where the motto is "Ready to Fight and Win Tonight", the whole process has been streamlined in order to be accomplished within five. Twenty-nine Crew Chiefs, manning three separate shifts, work around the clock to accomplish this vital mission, and while the stress of meeting the strict quality standards within a drastically compressed time frame might wear on your average person these impressive Mustangs are taking it in stride.
Tech. Sgt. Eric Reader, 51st MXS day shift inspection section dock chief, accredits this success and perseverance to what he calls "the best" Airmen that he has ever worked with. "Each one dedicated, eager to learn and improve," said Reader.
Crew Chiefs receive absolutely no phase dock training in their technical schools, every aspect of what they do in the docks is learned solely through on the job training, and only a handful of the current ones assigned have any previous experience to pass on.
This can prove to be somewhat daunting to a first term Airman fresh out of tech school like Airman 1st Class Nicholas "Gonzo" Goncalves, who, despite the steep learning curve, is finding the work to be fulfilling. "It's great job experience and it's really rewarding to go from working on cars to working on fighter planes," said Goncalves "You get to see the difference you make, it matters."
Staff Sgt. Cory Sheppard, a 51st MXS Crew Chief with six years of experience working on phase docks states "The best part of working on the docks is putting the jets back together in better condition, sending out a better product than what came in."
Being in a foreign country so far away from a support base like family and friends, long hours and intense work with extreme attention to detail to prevent malfunctions that could potentially claim lives, add to what the Air Force Medical Services Agency calls one of the most stressful jobs in the Force. Yet the Airmen of the 51st MXS get through by relying on each other both on and off duty.
"When you work together so closely to finish the mission, your team becomes your family," Goncalves explains in the middle of good natured teases and shouts of "Gonzo, get back to work." He laughingly adds about his own crew "They're kind of the brothers you wish you never had!"
"Fixed Right and Ready to Fight", are some of the first words you will see upon entering the F-16 Phase Docks, and they are words that the Crew Chiefs assigned to the docks take to heart and exemplify as they toil from sun up to sun down to keep Osan in the fight.