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DLE – Why the middle man?

The unofficial unit Air Force Central Command Depot Liaison Engineering patch rests on a desk within the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group April 11, 2019.

The unofficial unit Air Force Central Command Depot Liaison Engineering patch rests on a desk within the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group April 11, 2019. The DLE is the middle-man between aircraft maintenance units and engineers back home when there is damage that goes beyond what the technical order allows the maintainer to perform without further authorization. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. M. Rebecca Kretzer, 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group Depot Liaison Engineer, discusses potential maintenance requests during turnover with her replacement, Maj. Joseph Czabaranek, April 11, 2019.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. M. Rebecca Kretzer, 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group Depot Liaison Engineer, discusses potential maintenance requests during turnover with her replacement, Maj. Joseph Czabaranek, April 11, 2019. The DLE is the middle-man between aircraft maintenance units and engineers back home when there is damage that goes beyond what the technical order allows the maintainer to perform without further authorization. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. M. Rebecca Kretzer, 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group Depot Liaison Engineer, discusses common maintenance requests during turnover with her replacement, Maj. Joseph Czabaranek, April 11, 2019.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. M. Rebecca Kretzer, 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group Depot Liaison Engineer, discusses common maintenance requests during turnover with her replacement, Maj. Joseph Czabaranek, April 11, 2019. The DLE is the middle-man between aircraft maintenance units and engineers back home when there is damage that goes beyond what the technical order allows the maintainer to perform without further authorization. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --

The 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group hosts one of only five Depot Liaison Engineer (DLE) positions within the Air Force Central Command area of responsibility.

“I have a pretty boring job if there are no aircraft broken – which is fine, we accept that.” said 1st Lt. M. Rebecca Kretzer, sustainment engineer and AFCENT DLE.

The DLE is the one who turns aircraft maintenance-speak into engineer-speak. When a plane breaks beyond what is covered in the technical orders for repair, the maintenance unit reaches out to the DLE. That is when things get busy for whomever is in that position.

“I have 24/7 comms with the engineers back stateside,” said Kretzer. “I am here to help speed up the process to get our jets back to the fight as fast as possible.”

She reaches back to program engineers who work specifically with whatever aircraft is having the issue. Those engineers are the ones who can design a particular fix and authorize the unit down range to execute the repair.

“The benefit to having me here is I have personal relationships with a lot of the engineers. I know them from back home.” she said. “I have conversations with them beyond what a maintainer would be able to so I can get answers faster.”

Without someone holding DLE positions, jets would be down a lot longer.

Though the primary reason for having a sustainment engineer in the AOR is to serve as a DLE, they do hold a secondary purpose. If there is battle damage to an aircraft elsewhere in the AOR, they forward deploy. Once forward deployed, they then create from scratch, doing hand math, to create the structural repairs.

“When you look at a technical order it says you need a patch ‘this size and with this many rivets.’ We actually go through and hand calculate everything. How many rivets you will need, how many rows.” said Kretzer.

There is a two-week training course the engineers have to attend to learn about the nine step process of Air Battle Damage Repair, along with approximately 300 hours of training to be qualified.

“We learn how to make pulleys, we learn how to do hydraulic fixes, patch work, shoot rivets, that kind of stuff,” said Kretzer. “Then we do an assessor course which is aircraft specific. We learn how to actually assess the damage and create the repairs.”

Having the expertise and reach back the DLE position holds, maintainers can proceed with repairs in as little as 15 minutes of putting in a request.

“The fastest turn I’ve had is about 15 minutes.” said Kretzer. “Usually we can have them within 24 hours, depending on if it has to go through multiple engineers.”

Though sometimes having to go through a middle man seems like an extra step, when it comes to the DLE, it is a step not to be eliminated.