Red Flag offers 388 FW F-35 maintainers a chance to grow together

  • Published
  • By Micah Garbarino
  • 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 421st Fighter Generation Squadron are working around the clock to provide mission ready F-35A Lighting II aircraft for exercise Red Flag 24-1, but they are also working on their own growth as Airmen.

While the 421st Fighter Squadron and FGS recently returned from a U.S. Central Command deployment, many of the squadron’s Airmen have never deployed. As other F-35A units stand up around the Air Force, they are drawing on the 388th Fighter Wing’s experienced maintainers, resulting in an influx of new blood.

“Our squadron has recently onboarded 30-40 new Airmen straight out of their initial skills training,” said Maj. Bryan Butler, 421st FGS commander. “This exercise is going to give them an opportunity to see a high-end fight where our pilots go out and fly some complex missions. They’ll see exactly why we need them to press hard on their upgrade training. There is going to be a day where we need those skills from them, or we’ll fall behind.”

With day and night sorties and limited spare aircraft, the simulated combat environment at Red Flag offers a tempo and urgency meant to prepare Airmen for a real-world deployment. The increased amount of flying here leads to a wider variety of maintenance issues that pop up, Butler said. Each one of those is a valuable opportunity for growth in the squadron.

“You learn a lot whenever you come here,” said Staff Sgt. Dakota Curran, an avionics craftsman from Oak Ridge, Tenn. “It’s helped me become a better troubleshooter, to dig deeper and learn some ways to fix things without all the support and capabilities we have back at Hill [Air Force Base].”

As a new supervisor, Curran says this trip has been a valuable tool for him as he works alongside less experienced troops, helping and observing the younger Airmen in an environment they may not yet be comfortable with.

“Back home, their work hours and workstations are set, daily tasks are pretty much set, but Red Flag forces us all to adapt,” Curran said. “It shows not only you, but them, what their strengths and weaknesses are and where they need to improve.”

A normal shift at Red Flag starts with Airmen and leadership taking stock of the current maintenance issues affecting each aircraft. Some Airmen perform inspections and prepare to launch or recover aircraft, while others dig into deeper maintenance issues to get each jet mission ready.

For 2nd Lt. Madi Maroney, from Anchorage, Alaska, learning the day-to-day mission of a deployed FGS has been a “whirlwind” experience. Moroney, who commissioned in October, is the officer in charge of the 388th Maintenance Squadron Accessories Flight. To learn the ropes, she was tasked with helping the 421st FGS during Red Flag and next week’s Bamboo Eagle exercise.

“This is my first time away from home station, and it’s been the coolest opportunity,” Moroney said.” I’ve been able to see the duties of a maintenance officer, balancing the people and scheduling to ensure pilots have the aircraft to fly. I’ve never been this close to the mission and been able to see the results. It’s a lot of work and long hours, but we love it.”

“It’s nice to be out here and see our training paying off,” said Senior Airman Gavin Wieszala, an F-35A crew chief from Buffalo, N.Y. “As you do more, you gain confidence in your ability to do the job. It goes a long way to build you in all aspects.”