RNZAF aviators recognized for their dedicated service to Herk Nation

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Julian Atkins
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Four maintenance personnel from the Royal New Zealand Air Force were recently recognized for their dedicated service during their time at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Since the beginning of 2023, 16 maintenance personnel and several aircrews, along with their families, have been training and integrating with Little Rock AFB in preparation for the arrival of their five new C-130J-30 Hercules aircraft in 2024.

The New Zealand Defence Force has successfully operated a fleet of five C-130H Hercules since the 1960s and the incoming C-130Js will serve to replace the current fleet in its tactical airlift role.

As the nation's tactical airlift "Center of Excellence" and the home of “Herk Nation”, Little Rock AFB offers the ability for maintenance and aircrew to train and experience all facets of C-130 operations.

After in-processing with the 314th Airlift Wing, the RNZAF personnel began their training earlier this year with the 373rd Training Squadron Detachment 4. Detachment 4 is a geographically separated unit of the 373rd TRS, 982nd Training Group, 82nd Training Wing, Sheppard AFB, Texas and is a tenant unit on Little Rock AFB. 

The Field Training Detachment mission of Det. 4 is funded through the 19th AW Maintenance Group and work almost daily with the 19th and 314th AW Maintenance Groups since these are Det. 4's primary customers.

During the mechanical and technical training courses, the RNZAF aviators learned the basics in multiple aspects of aircraft maintenance, such as communication navigation, integrated flight controls, fuel and environmental defense systems.

“The New Zealand maintenance team successfully completed a four-month specialized C-130J training program at the 373rd Training Squadron Det. 4,” said RNZAF – Flight Sgt. Andrew Fieldes, Future Air Mobility Capability program flightline coordinator. “During this period, the team made effective use of state-of-the-art training resources, enabling us to acquire the necessary skills and gain a comprehensive understanding of the aircraft.”

Following their training, the maintenance team was integrated into the 19th AW to gain further experience in operating and maintaining the C-130J.

“The maintenance unit is undergoing a seasoning phase which is where we are putting our training into practice and working side by side with our Air Force counterparts to carry out flightline maintenance with the 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and scheduled maintenance with 19th Maintenance Squadron,” Fieldes said. “The seasoning phase has been a unique opportunity for both the New Zealand team and the Air Force team here, and it has proven to be very successful in more ways than one.”

This partnership not only enhances the capabilities of the RNZAF but also further strengthens the interoperability and bonds between the two nations.

"Integrating the maintainers of the RNZAF into our unit has made us stronger together,” said Master Sgt. Emma Hebert, 19th AMXS. “Their skilled technicians have effortlessly merged into our organization, working three different shifts and supporting us through several readiness exercises, three deployment preparations, and the launch of our Air Force Force Generation (AFFORGEN) cycle. The RNZAF members’ dedication to maintaining high standards has increased the reliability of our aircraft and strengthened our international relations by creating friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Ultimately, the first-hand experiences the RNZAF is receiving while working with Team Little Rock will support New Zealand in establishing its own highly skilled and proficient C-130J maintenance unit, which in turn will ensure they are prepared to deliver on future C-130J operations, explained Fieldes.

During a Team Little Rock staff meeting recently, Col. Denny Davies, 19th AW and installation commander, recognized the contributions of four maintenance personnel to the Herk Nation team. These four maintainers are also set to return to New Zealand in the next few weeks and will be preparing a wider C-130J team based in New Zealand, by delivering specialist training they learned while at Little Rock AFB.

“Your military experience in the Pacific and how you pour into our Airmen on a day-to day basis has been such a beneficial relationship,” said Davies. “While we are sorry to see you go, we are excited for what you are going to be able to do. On behalf of the entire installation, thank you for all you have done while you were here and we look forward to hearing great things from you.”

With the exception of the four maintainers who are set to depart Herk Nation in the coming month, the rest of the New Zealand team will remain at Little Rock AFB until mid-2024, aligning with the expected arrival of their first aircraft delivery.

“What has attributed to our success is the U.S. Air Force welcoming us into their workplaces and making us feel right at home,” said Fieldes. It's safe to say we have become valued and trusted members of the team and have formed friendships that will continue to last well beyond our time here in Little Rock.”