Balad's mission begins with strategic airlift

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman James Croxon
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
With aircraft valued at $150 milion and up, these assets are too valuable to sit in harm's way in Iraq. To get the large cargo aircraft gased and maintained and on their way, the 721st Air Mobility Operations Group, Detachment 5, Airmen work to move the airlifters in the air quickly and out of the path of incoming mortars and rockets.

Balad Air Base's mission begins with strategic airlift, primarily the C-5 Galaxies and C-17 Globemaster IIIs. Like giant albatrosses, these T-tailed behemoths are vulnerable on the ground. 

"Neither the pilots nor the maintainers want the aircraft on the ground any longer than absolutely necessary," said Airman 1st Class Mark Mano, a C-17 crew chief deployed from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. "The main thing we focus on is gas, engines and wings. If they can safely fly home for maintenance, then they go home. They don't stay overnight here unless they absolutely have to."

The detachment's mission is to provide aircraft maintenance, launch and recover all Air Mobility Command aircraft traveling through Balad AB, said Maj. Jay McSweeney, 721st AMOG, Det. 5 commander.

"To put this plainly, it means we have to refuel, service and repair all C-17s and C-5s as quickly as possible to minimize the ground time in order to limit exposure to possible enemy attacks," the major said.

The Airmen work as a team on every task, blurring the lines between Air Force specialties.

"I'm a crew chief. Back home, it's checking tires, marshaling and fueling day in, day out for Airmen like me," Airman Mano said. "Here, I work with the engine troops, guidance and control, hydraulics and the other AFSCs. I get to see how the plane works on the inside."

Teamwork also spans airframes.

"We're split fairly evenly between C-5 and C-17 troops," said Master Sgt. Leon Payne, a guidance and control craftsman deployed from Charleston AFB and one of two superintendents assigned to Det. 5. "When the C-5 Airmen are fixing a part, the C-17 Airmen will help out. It's common for maintainers to be signed off on some core tasks for different airframes."

Deployed maintenance has a different focus than maintenance at home.

"In comparison to home station, Balad would be considered a 'gas-n-go' stop," Major McSweeney said. "We have limited repair capabilities here. We do have the expertise to repair almost any maintenance problem, but much lower manning, no organic back shop capability, and limited parts support.

"One way we offset these limitations is our direct line of communication with AMC's Tanker Airlift Control Center," the major said. "When we have maintenance problems that require parts we don't have in stock, we communicate this information to the TACC logistics control division and we receive the parts via AMC airlift within 24 to 36 hours."
Repairing aircraft so quickly takes teamwork and it's evident everywhere. Airmen work with NCOs and 5-levels work with 7-levels.

"About half of us are junior enlisted, many on their first deployment," Sergeant Payne said. "These young Airmen are really charged up and have embraced the team concept."