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JCAT Airman uses combat forensics to evolve the AFCENT mission

U.S. Air Force 1st. Lt. Collin Dart, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group depot liaison engineer, inspects the internals of a C-130 Hercules aircraft Oct. 17, 2018, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. As a member of the Joint Combat Assessment Team, Dart evaluates aviation combat damage incidents, assesses the threat environment for operational commanders, and collects data to support aircraft survivability research and development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz)

1st. Lt. Collin Dart, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group depot liaison engineer, inspects the internals of a C-130 Hercules aircraft Oct. 17, 2018, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. As a member of the Joint Combat Assessment Team, Dart evaluates aviation combat damage incidents, assesses the threat environment for operational commanders, and collects data to support aircraft survivability research and development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- The ideal outcome of any conflict is to achieve victory and come out the other side unscathed. However, an undesired outcome does not mean lessons cannot be learned and applied for future conflicts. The United States military has used this mentality since its inception and applies it today in the form of the Joint Combat Assessment Team.

According to 1st. Lt. Collin Dart, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group depot liaison engineer, JCATs evaluate aviation combat damage incidents, assess the threat environment for operational commanders, and collect data through combat forensics to support aircraft survivability research and development.

Dart, a three-year veteran from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, decided to join the Air Force after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and said he wanted to do whatever he could to defend his country. Dart not only achieves this goal by serving, but also defends his fellow Airmen by identifying equipment and aircraft vulnerabilities, he said.

“Combat forensics consists of assessing aircraft damage and determining what type of weapon system affected or struck the aircraft,” Dart said. “It can range from as easy as documenting small arms damage to as difficult as sifting through wreckage to determine how and what destroyed the aircraft.”

Dart explained he is not too busy investigating enemy strikes or small arms fire on aircraft. However, in the event of a catastrophic incident, he would be notified by his higher headquarters to begin an investigation. In this instance, he forward deploys directly to the site to collect evidence before the site is cleared. After completing his assessment, his report is briefed to the respective leadership and then sent up the chain-of-command.

“Assessing aircraft damage helps us gather intelligence on what weapon systems enemy combatants have access to,” Dart said. “The data we acquire assists in determining aircraft vulnerabilities – and aids in the design of future systems.”

According to Col. Lindsay Droz, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group commander, not only does Dart help the EMXG and 386th Air Expeditionary Wing with their missions, but provides the entire theater a unique capability.

“Having Lt. Dart here is a force multiplier,” Droz said. “His expertise is not limited to a specific airframe, so he can support any repair, incident, or mishap at any location within the theater. This is the first deployment I have had an opportunity to work with a specialist like Lt. Dart, and I wish I had this capability available to me previously.”

Droz said Dart’s engineering knowledge and ability to effectively communicate their needs to depot engineers expedites their ability to fix aircraft.

“Rather than going back and forth with engineers in the states, we can work directly with Lt. Dart to capture our needs,” Droz said. “This often cuts the number of iterations we have to go through to get an approved engineering solution. With the time differences, weekends, and amount of time engineers need to work through a solution, cutting down on even a single iteration can save us two to five days on any given repair.”

The ability to engineer and provide solutions is nothing new for Dart. As the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center chief aircraft battle damage and repair engineer at Robins AFB, he said the puzzle-solving aspect of this career is what keeps him excited for the job.

“The best part of my job is that it has a direct impact on personnel safety and mission security,” he said. “The data I collect directly reduces the vulnerabilities of current and future aircraft through modification and design.”

Dart said the position is fulfilling, but can be mentally taxing. He said he prepares for these scenarios by ensuring his equipment bag is ready and staying up-to-date on his training. He went on to say, while physical health is important, his mental acuity proves to be the more-potent weapon while performing his job.

“I am proud of what I do and I enjoy the puzzle solving challenge of it,” he said. “Looking at the evidence and piecing together the story from the tiniest details is intriguing and rewarding. It is also comforting knowing that the evidence I collect ensures our aircraft are stronger in the future.”

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