ROBINS AFB, Ga --
In the movie Sin City (2005), the character Dwight says,"there's nothing like having your friends show up.with lotsa guns." Sometimes, it is even better to have them show up with wrenches.
Last fall, the 561st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) saw their F-15 production lines fall behind. They decided that addressing the backlog required more personnel than their on-board civilian technicians alone, but they needed a solution that would allow them to bring additional maintenance personnel to the table quickly, and on an as-needed basis only.
Enter Personnel Force Innovation (PFI).
PFI is an Under Secretary of Defense initiative designed help agencies with Defense Working Capital funds find Reserve Component service members interested in working on Title 10 orders to fill non-permanent staffing needs. After the 561st AMXS reached out to PFI for assistance, PFI immediately began reaching out to Air Force Reserve and National Guard personnel with aircraft maintenance experience to help the unit address their manpower needs and get aircraft back in the air as quickly as possible.
"Our 'work-in-progress' was more than we liked it to be; about two times more than we wanted it to be, so we had a back-log here at our functional test area, which is where we induct the airplanes into the machine here at Robins AFB," said J.C. Middleton, unit guard and reserve coordinator for the AMXS. "Because the work was temporary, and the process to bring on more traditional personnel is so lengthy, it was much more efficient for us to use PFI to recruit military personnel to come here and help us out."
Currently, there are five personnel assisting the unit on Title 10 orders through PFI. Those personnel have made a massive impact on productivity so far. Within one week of their arrival, they cut in half the time required for servicing and shakedowns for foreign object inspections on functional test jets. At one point, they even produced two jets 14 days faster than average.
When the Reserve Component Airmen first arrived at the unit to begin work, they dealt with a steep learning curve, as most of them had never performed anything more in-depth than unit-level maintenance. While on orders at Robins AFB, they need to perform depot-level maintenance, which is much more comprehensive than what they had been exposed to prior. They approached the challenges with gusto, and will now be much more skilled and experienced when their orders end and they return home to their Reserve and National Guard units.
"These guys aren't authorized to remove a wing at home station. That is depot-level maintenance," said Middleton. "That's an example of the things these guys get to do here that they would never get to do at home station. They remove aircraft generators, and airframe-mounted accessories drives, which house the components that make the aircraft hydraulically functional. Things like radar and landing gear components that they don't get a chance to change at home because it's not flight-line-level maintenance. They get to do that here."
Senior Airman Christopher Merrill, a Reserve Citizen Airman from the 414th Maintenance Squadron, 944th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, is currently on orders as a crew chief for the 561st AMXS through PFI. He heard about the opportunity to come on orders from his flight chief at his home unit. He applied because he was interested in the learning opportunity.
"I mostly did routine maintenance at home station," said Merrill. "It was really nothing compared to what we do here. We change airframe-mounted accessory drives, integrated drive generators. I had done those tasks before, but I do them way more often here. I'm really getting triple the experience in my job that I could get back home, so when I am done here and I go back to my unit, I will be just that much better at my job."
Tech. Sgt. Allen Young, a guardsman from the 144th Fighter Wing, California National Guard, came all the way from his hometown in Fresno, California, to serve on orders for four months. He heard about the opportunity from his commander, and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
"I had roughly 20 years of experience working on aircraft and I've still learned a lot," said Young. "Things like the environmental control system usually get sent to the electrician shop to be worked on, and while I've been here, I've been able to get my hands on things like that and a lot of other tasks that you just don't get a lot of opportunity to do unless you are working at the depot level."
Young said the most rewarding part of the job is preparing the aircraft to take off and head back to their unit.
"When these planes come here, they get stripped down to bare-bones nothing, and then get rebuilt and put back together, and to know that you are putting that plane in the air to do its job - to fly, launch missiles, to fight, and actually get to be a part of that - there's no better feeling I can think of," said Young.
Personnel Force Innovation is currently searching for several more Reserve Component personnel to work at Robins AFB as tactical aircraft maintenance technicians. For more information or to apply, visit https://pfi.dod.mil.