AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
When it comes to quality assurance, Master Sgt. Ray Kauffman is all about attention to detail.
As a QA inspector for the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group, Kauffman oversees inspection of the KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. He began his Air Force career in 1991, with 19 years of experience in aircraft maintenance before moving into quality assurance in 2010. His background gives him a unique perspective on the approach he takes with these aircraft and the crews who care for them. Four of the Stratotankers even traveled with him from his home station at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, distinguished by the tiger stripes painted on the tails.
“I’m the nurse,” Kauffman said about his interactions with aircrew and their work. “I’m the first person they see when dealing with a sick aircraft, and I have to have good system knowledge to make sure we get the plane to operational status as quickly as possible and then report the health of the fleet. Both the goals of the maintainers and myself is to complete the mission. Our mission is real-world, and I don’t want to impede that.”
Kauffman’s check-up schedule is set by the aircraft. From ensuring that items due for inspection are receiving a checkup, to dealing with an unplanned mechanical issue, his involvement ensures a system of checks and balances for the technical orders and the Airmen executing the work. The end user of the aircraft – the aircrew flying missions – are dependent on this system to keep them safe.
He hopes his reports act as a resource for the maintainers to help with juggling the ops tempo of the mission. By focusing on discrepancy trends, he can look at the history of any issue and understand based on consistency if it is an issue with the part or the method. Building on these lessons allows the squadron to be more efficient.
As an Air National Guard member, Kauffman has worked in quality assurance with the military and also in the civilian world.
“I incorporate those civilian techniques into what I do here,” he said. “My approach is for these Airmen to have positive encounters with me and for us to build connections. My intent is to ensure I approach the Airmen with honesty and understand the full picture of why performance is being impacted. Out here, they just want to know they’re doing a good job. Although I’m evaluating them, I was in their shoes. And as a senior noncommissioned officer, I want them to be showcased because of their strengths. They contribute so much to the Air Force, and I hope they perceive me to be just as sincere and passionate as they are about accomplishing the mission.”
And for Kauffman, this is likely to be his last deployment in the Air Force after more than 35 years.
“I’ll definitely miss the people – that’s through my career, not just deployment,” he said. “It’s a closure. I don’t mind coming to work, in fact I’ll miss it. Every day here is like a blursday. There’s never a time I count on the week to be over.”