Little Rock maintainers ensure mission success at home, abroad

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy McGuffin
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Charged with maintaining and servicing the world’s largest C-130J Super Hercules fleet at home station, the operations tempo of the 19th Maintenance Group doesn’t relent when they deploy. In fact, they’re responsible for providing safe, reliable and immediate agile combat airlift across two theaters of operations.

Two distinct combatant commands, one deployed maintenance team — made up of 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 19th Maintenance Squadron and 19th MXG personnel.

Airmen assigned to the 19th MXG split their operations and personnel between two locations — the 61st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan and the 75th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

In Afghanistan, the 61st EAMU supports Operations FREEDOM’S SENTINEL and NATO-led RESOLUTE SUPPORT, ensuring U.S. Air Forces Central Command has the combat airlift capabilities necessary to conduct counterterrorism operations and allied support within the region.

In Djibouti, the maintainers of the 75th EAMS service the Department of Defense’s only airlift unit in U.S. Africa Command as part of Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa.

Despite operating at two vastly different locations, they boast one singular mission: keep the C-130J flying safely and efficiently to ensure aircraft are ready to launch at a moment’s notice.

While both teams are accomplishing what most would consider the same duties, they each have unique missions and obstacles to overcome.

For instance, the 61st EAMU maintainers enable tactical airlift mission-sets to include aeromedical evacuation, cargo delivery, personnel movement and intra-theater airdrop operations — all while operating under the constraints of COVID-19.

“One of the challenges associated with this deployment has been learning to operate amongst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Capt. Keith Schiesz, 61st EAMU officer-in-charge. “Upon arrival in theater, the team quickly established aircraft decontamination procedures that enabled continuous 24/7 flight operations while mitigating the risk of virus transmission.”

As the 61st EAMU worked to establish first-of-its-kind, in-theater COVID-19 procedures, the 75th EAMS faced its own concerns upon arrival, while simultaneously supporting personnel recovery and East Africa Response Force mission taskings.

“In addition to the challenges of operating in 110 degree plus heat and a resource limited environment, Djibouti is home to a severe corrosion environment,” said 1st Lt. Matthew DeLuze, 75th EAMS officer-in-charge.  “The nearby salt water requires aircraft washes every 30 days. The men and women of the 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 19th Maintenance Squadron overcame barriers and set up the first full-time in theater recurring aircraft washes and developed a sustainable schedule.”

In addition to these initiatives, the units are also responsible to launch and recover aircraft, accomplish pre- and post-flight inspections, perform system troubleshooting and repairs, ensure serviceability of Aerospace Ground Equipment, and provide critical logistics and supply support to maintain the health of the fleet.

In short, maintenance never stops.

“It’s amazing to see these maintainers in action,” Schiesz said. “They are highly skilled, resilient and immensely devoted to keeping our aircraft in the air. Without their hard work and dedication, the mission simply would not be possible.”

DeLuze echoed the same sentiments about his unit.

“Regardless of what obstacles we have faced, our Airmen have demonstrated their resiliency and overcome the challenges they have encountered,” he said.

Lt. Col. Donald Hudson, 19th AMXS commander, added that he’s proud of the work LRAFB maintainers are doing both here and abroad.

“I’m absolutely proud of the combat capability our maintainers provide,” he said. “They provide this capability constantly. We have a lot of customers who rely on the combat airlift my maintainers provide; and they provide it better than anyone. They’ve adapted to this COVID-19 environment and are setting standards, both here and abroad, on how to not only meet the mission but how to improve upon it.”