Airmen, Marines share training, language
Tech. Sgt. Todd Gagnon (left), 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-130J crew chief, deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., helps Corporal Ryan Kraus (right), Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 KC-130J airframes mechanic, extract an old windshield to replace it here at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, April 15, 2012. The two participated in a joint training exchange aimed at teaching different maintenance techniques as well as instilling inter-service communication and cooperation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle)
by Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
4/26/2012 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Recently a few 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron members enjoyed a cultural exchange of a somewhat different kind. It wasn't between Air Force service members and coalition forces, but an inter-service training exchange between the 451st EAMXS C-130J maintenance Airmen and the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 (VMGR) KC-130J maintenance personnel deployed here.
Both sides looked to increase communication to learn more about their fellow maintainers and better accomplish the mission in the area of responsibility.
"Each service speaks differently from one another, but we can speak about technical aspects of the job and be understood that way," said Staff Sgt. James Alesch, 451st EAMXS guidance and control systems technician and exchange participant. "Electricity is electricity, and maintenance is maintenance whether it's in the Air Force or the Marine Corps."
Maintenance can be a universal language, and Senior Master Sgt. Rodney Jones, 451st EAMXS C-130J Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent, wanted to expand on that shared commonality so each side could learn from the other and increase mission success. Marine enlisted leaders here also shared Jones's vision.
"I hope our Marines can continue to develop a better working relationship with the Air Force," said Master Sgt. Jeff Koenig, VMGR Maintenance chief. "We want to break down communication barriers so we can better help each other when we do joint operations."
These two units have clearly embraced a joint operations philosophy because in the past few months, they've found time in a high operations tempo environment, to share tools, borrow parts, and even offer advice. This led Jones to further their already warm working relationship by initiating a training exchange program similar to one he'd seen at a prior deployment.
"A joint perspective is a good thing because we can get everyone on the same page," said Jones. "The VMGR unit might have a part we need or vice versa," said Jones. "Without each other we'd have a broken aircraft and be unable to accomplish the mission."
With that one team, one fight mentality, both units exchanged two people for five days to fulfill the maintenance expectations for their work center's different missions. The Air Force's C-130J Super Hercules, a modified C-130 Hercules, is used primarily for air-dropping vital supplies to forward operating bases, whereas the KC-130J, the Marine Corps variant, has been modified for extended-range aerial refueling.
"We have almost the exact same airframe, but our work center structures, job positions, maintenance operating procedures and evaluations are different," said Koenig.
On the Air Force side of the house, the maintainers are one system qualified compared to the Marine's five system. The Air Force's maintainers can specialize to a further extent, but Marine maintainer's have greater flexibility and can work a wider range of projects because of their qualification system.
This is one of many differences that most training participants said they were eager to learn about to gain a different view on how the other service operates and maybe learn new tricks of the trade to share with other unit members.
"We are building tomorrow's leaders here," said Master Sgt. Joachim Hunter, 451st EAMXS C-130J AMU section chief. "This exchange program gives our Airmen a broader perspective that they wouldn't ordinarily get."
The technical and tactical advice they've learned might help out them out the next time they are co-located nearby with Air Force personnel, said Gunnery Sgt. David Tripp, VMGR Maintenance control chief.
Everyone mentioned that this program isn't just about training during a deployment rotation, making inter-service contacts, borrowing wrenches and helping diagnose aircraft malfunctions.
The program doesn't have to end with these units, said Hunter.
A sentiment shared by both sides of enlisted leaders who plan to urge their succeeding units to continue the training program. The more experienced sergeants are hoping for longer term effects, wanting to guide their less experienced Airmen and Marines into adaptable leaders capable of operating in a joint environment.
This exchange is one step further to not just completing the Air Force's objectives, but achieving the total force's mission success.
"We might accomplish the maintenance differently, but our goal is the same: to get the aircraft up safely," said Tripp.