TFI makes them fly

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
  • 307th Bomb wing
Two B-52 Strafortresses crested the mountains surrounding Nellis Air Force Base, Dec. 11th, the last of 16 sorties flown by the 340th Weapons Squadron during Weapon School Integration (WSINT) Exercise 18-Bravo.

None of the 16 missions would have been possible without the team of maintainers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, on the Nellis flight line ensuring the jets were ready to fly. The contingent was made up of Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Bomb Wing and active-duty Airmen from the 2nd Bomb Wing. They are part of the Total Force Integration model designed to combine manpower and resources of the active-duty Air Force and the Air Force Reserve to ensure mission goals are met and act as a force multiplier.

The WSINT is the final event for students in the rigorous five-and-a half month Weapons school curriculum and involves a series of complex missions, designed to make them experts in combat integration across multiple domains, services and agencies.

“We bring the finest maintainers out with us for these exercises,” said Maj. Joseph Ellis, WSINT phase manager. “They not only understand the mission here, but they understand the syllabus of the Weapons School and what we need to be successful.”

While students going through the WSINT are subjected to combat conditions in flight, the 307th Bomb Wing maintainers dealt with a similar environment on the ground. Because the group came from Barksdale, they faced limited resources similar to a deployed situation.

“During this exercise, we didn’t have all the tools, parts and personnel that we have back at Barksdale,” said SMSgt. Todd Leethy, 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production supervisor. “Aircraft parking was pretty cramped and the pace was faster, so our younger Airmen were able to gain experience they don’t normally get at the home station.”

In spite of the simulated wartime conditions, the maintainers were able to launch 16 of 18 scheduled sorties over the course of 14 days, an 88 percent success rate.

“Working with the 307th Bomb Wing maintainers, there is never a second thought about whether or not we’ll be able to execute the mission, said Maj. Shawn Elliott, 340th Weapons Squadron assistant director of operations. “The maintenance is exceptional and the TFI model has been seamless.”

One of the benefits of the TFI model is the exchange of ideas and transfer of knowledge between Reserve Citizen Airmen and their active duty counterparts. It inspires a sense of camaraderie that carries over to forward locations, making the maintainers more effective, according to some of the Airmen involved.

“The 307th Bomb Wing and 2nd Bomb Wing integrate really well together,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Ceffalia, an active-duty crew chief with the 11th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “At the home station, when heavy maintenance needs to be done, everyone helps out and it is the same when we come out here.”

Tech. Sgt. Keith Bishop, a Reserve Citizen Airman crew chief with the 307th AMXS, agreed with the Ceffalia’s assessment of the TFI relationship.

“We work together every day at the home station, so when we come out here we just know how to make it happen,” he said. “We are basically like family to one another.”

Many of the Reserve Citizen Airmen maintainers have worked on the same jets for several years, bringing continuity to the program and education to their younger troops. Their experience, coupled with the demands of the WSINT, make for a valuable training scenario.

“The training here helped a lot by making me pick up the pace and troubleshoot better,” said Airman 1st Class James Johnson, 2nd AMXS electronic warfare journeyman. “We had to deal with red balls here more, and that is something I don’t see often at Barksdale.”

Red balls are situations where repairs have to be made quickly on an aircraft while its engines are running in preparation for takeoff. Leethy said the young Airmen performed well facing these types of situations, thanks in large part to the efforts made at employing the TFI model.

“We had quite a few younger Airmen on this trip and the pace really kept them on their toes,” he said. “The key was just to communicate the plan for each day, keep an eye on their work and give them the chance to learn.”