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380AEW Article

Deployed maintenance Airmen enable 40-year-old AWACS mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Preston Webb
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Airmen in the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron E-3 Sentry Aircraft Maintenance Unit enable the Air Force core Command and Control mission through constant upkeep of the E-3 Sentry aircraft.

"The Airborne Warning and Control System fills gaps between ground radar systems to enable the mission," said Staff Sgt. Emily, 380th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Sentry Aircraft Maintenance Unit surveillance radar craftsman.

The AWACS provides situational awareness, command and control, battle management, surveillance and early warning of friendly, neutral and hostile activity during joint, allied, and coalition operations. None of this is possible without units like the 380 AMXS Sentry AMU.

"We spend most of our time training at home station, it's really not until we [deploy] that we get to see the impact of the missions we enable," said Senior Airman Nikolea, 380 AMXS Sentry AMU communications and navigation systems journeyman. "A lot of sweat and a few tears go into making the mission happen."

The 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron often flies long sorties that would ordinarily need an augmented crew to rotate Airmen out mid-flight, which requires significantly more resources to support. To ease the burden, Sentry AMU Airmen perform as many pre-flight checks as possible on the aircrew's behalf, saving time and enabling sorties to fly with only a single crew.

"[The 968th EAACS] flies one to two lines a day here with a very small fleet. Our maintainers are always working the aircraft to get them prepped and ready to fly the next day. We also work hand in hand with our ops counterparts to get the jets cocked and ready for the aircrew to just step, seal the door, and fly. The management of our processes between both ops and maintenance is crucial to our success. We are lucky to have such a great working relationship with our flying squadron."

In addition to performing day-to-day maintenance, Sentry AMU Airmen specialize in a wide variety of systems such as radio, navigation, radar, coolant, and computer systems.

"I love my job because of all the different things we're responsible for," said Senior Airman Austin, 380 AMXS Sentry AMU aerospace repair journeyman. "Our job is never the same thing twice."

Senior Master Sgt. Ben, 380 AMXS Sentry AMU superintendent, said while day-to-day tasks vary greatly, the first component to their success is a steady schedule.

"Having a predictable, steady-state schedule enables us to better manage the maintenance of our fleet, which is vital to a unit faced with small fleet dynamics in order to successfully meet air tasking orders. Flexibility is also key because you never know when a surge operation can drop, such as meeting the recent POTUS [President of the United States] support tasking during which we provided 51-hours of continuous command and control.”

Ben said a large portion of the predictability is the coordination and communication between operational and maintenance personnel. Without flexible units, willing to give and take, the mission would suffer.
"An open dialogue between maintenance and [operations] provides the bedrock for mission success. Both sides have to balance mission and maintenance necessities and share in that responsibility to ensure the best aircraft possible is generated to allow for mission execution." Ben said. "The maintenance & operations relationship during this rotation has had the best communication and overall working relationship that I've seen in all my deployments."

The second component to the unit's success is their skilled Airmen that carry a deep understanding of their job and airframe.

“The [E-3 Sentry] is an old airframe, so part availability is limited," Ben said. "I'm very impressed with the innovation and expertise these Airmen exhibit to maintain an airframe with few resources. Their expertise is what leads to faster turnaround times and allows our unit to meet a robust operations tempo."

Ben said the third component to the unit's continued success has been top-down support. Capt. James shared the sentiment that by trusting the subject matter experts to do what they do best, leadership is enabling a streamlined mission.

"You can see the trust that our leadership from the top down puts in the Airmen. They are trusted and allowed to perform their jobs without question and they do it extremely well. I am beyond lucky to be deployed and making a real world impact with them. Keeping these old airplanes flying every day is no easy task and I am thankful to be working alongside such skilled and motivated aircraft maintainers. It makes me proud to say that I’m a part of Sentry AMU."