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Painting squadron pride

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) -- When it comes to taking care of the F-16 Fighting Falcons at Holloman Air Force Base, aircraft structural maintenance technicians have a major responsibility.

As corrosion experts, they strip and re-paint F-16 tails -- replacing Luke AFB's "LF" with Holloman's "HO."

"The letters on the tail are designators for what Air Force base you're assigned," said Staff Sgt. Gregory Liggins, the assistant NCO in charge of corrosion control with the 49th Maintenance Squadron. "There's a lot that goes into replacing them."

Recently, the 54th Fighter Squadron's F-16 flagship experienced the swap as Airmen sanded down the vertical stabilizer, primed it for painting and gave the aircraft a fresh coat of paint along with brand new decals and local markings.

"This is the most important jet on base," Liggins said. "It represents the wing as well as the 54th Fighter Group. There's no other jet like it on this base, and that's why it's decorated the way it is."

Replacing everything on the tail of an aircraft is an extensive process requiring attention to detail and patience.

"The whole process takes roughly five days," said Airman 1st Class Robert Rocha, an aircraft structural maintenance technician with the 49th MXS.

Rocha, who joined the Air Force to learn how to work with sheet metal, and other Airmen who share his passion, inspect every aircraft twice a year for corrosion. After an aircraft's semiannual mandatory washing, they are taxied into one of three paint booths where the corrosion experts conduct a paint score.

"When an aircraft comes in, we're required to do a paint score," Liggins said. "Basically, we're walking around the jet looking at areas that have bare metal, chipped paint and primer spots. Then we check the thickness of the paint with a gauge. We update all of this information for planning, scheduling and documentation."

Once the average paint thickness on a jet is worn too thin, the entire aircraft has to be sandblasted and repainted. The technicians at corrosion control do any painting the aircraft needs short of this. Touch ups, replacing symbols and anything that will fight deterioration are just a few things these Airmen do.

"These guys here are outstanding," Liggins said. "They follow instructions, and they have attention to detail, which is key. A lot has been put on them, but they step up to the challenge."

Every job in the Air Force contributes to the overall mission. For the Airmen in the aircraft structural maintenance shop, this means keeping the aircraft in prime shape and able to withstand the elements.

"We're all one big oiled machine," Liggins said. "In the end, we're the ones who have the biggest responsibility when it comes to protecting the aircraft from corrosion."