F-16 maintenance: the down and dirty perspective
Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea -- Growing up with a passion for mechanics, one Airman likes to get her hands dirty, turn wrenches and troubleshoot broken machinery.
In a career field predominantly filled by men, Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Dietrick, 8th Maintenance Squadron inspection team member, doesn't consider her career decision unusual.
"I always loved going through the mechanical tools in my dad's garage as I was growing up, while on the other hand, my sisters were more feminine," Dietrick said. "I'm glad this was the job I was able to get coming into the Air Force."
Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, the 23-year-old staff sergeant joined the Air Force at 18 to take advantage of tuition assistance opportunities.
"I had an aunt and uncle who were also in the Air Force," Dietrick said. "My uncle was a weapons troop when he was in. Hearing some of his stories and all the cool places he was able to travel to made me aspire to become a maintenance Airman as well."
Dietrick was stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, prior to joining the Wolf Pack.
Dietrick feels that she found her niche after serving in the Air Force for five years.
"I enjoy taking things apart," Dietrick said. "I like getting dirty and being able to move around a lot. Being a crew chief has been fun for me and it definitely suits me well."
Dietrick's love for the job and attention to detail led her to be recommended as the inspection team floor chief. She is training for the job now.
"The floor chief manages the people on the job making sure they stay busy and the jobs for the day get accomplished in a timely manner," Dietrick said. "I could be tasked with the management of a wide range of projects, from towing an aircraft to installation or removal of parts."
Dietrick and her team are also responsible for inspecting to ensure hardware is still serviceable.
"For instance, if we find a mark or bolt that is damaged, then we'll mark them and write them up so they can be changed out by more functional parts," Dietrick said. "We could end up replacing anything from a two-dollar bolt to a multimillion-dollar engine."
When it comes to the mission of generating sorties at Kunsan Air Base, Dietrick and her Airmen all get the opportunity to take an in-depth look at aircraft before and after flight.
"We get the unique opportunity to really ensure aircraft are safe," Dietrick said. "We get to look inside bunch of panels that crew chiefs on the flight line won't typically see."
From a combination of troubleshooting and procedural checks, Dietrick and the 9 others on her shift must work quickly, but efficiently, to keep aircraft flying.
"If it wasn't for our phase inspections, incidents and in-flight emergencies with aircraft would significantly increase," Dietrick said. "Figuratively speaking, we're like doctors who ensure the jet is completely healthy and serviceable before flight."
Overall, Dietrick has enjoyed her experience at the ROK, and says she will enjoy the remainder of her tour and career.
"I look forward to learning as much as I can while I'm here," Dietrick said. "I feel that I need to lead by example as an NCO. I like to share my knowledge, so the more I know, the more I can give back to the next generation of Airmen."
Photo: Staff. Sgt. Elizabeth Dietrick, 8th Maintenance Squadron inspection section team member, stands ready to perform her duties as a leader of 8 Airmen at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, June 9, 2015. Dietrick works with a team of Airmen during phase inspections to take an in-depth look at aircraft before and after flight. Phase inspections are performed on aircraft every 400 flight hours and involve procedural maintenance actions that require robust attention to detail. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson)
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