Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

April 6, 2017 at 12:23pm

A calm in the storm

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Daniel Liddicoet

Next to the ancient city of Bagram and seven miles southeast of Charikar in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, Bagram Airfield has remained amongst the most dangerous air bases in the War on Terror. Enduring multiple deadly attacks and incidents since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, the volatile airfield has tested American deployers for more than a decade.

Colonel Cheryl Knight, commander of the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was deployed at Bagram during a particularly tragic span that oversaw the crash of a C-130 Hercules that took off from Bagram and killed 14 people at Jalalabad Airport in October 2015 and a suicide motorcycle bomber that killed six at Bagram in December of the same year.

Far from shying away, Knight and the citizen airmen that compose her squadron, meet these challenges head on.

"I'd go back in a heartbeat," reflects Knight, as she remembers back to when she first learned she would deploy to Bagram after a sudden change of plans rerouting her from a leadership assignment at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

In August 2015, Knight soon found herself tapped to lead and command an AES squadron at Bagram Airfield that was responsible for 100 percent of the aeromedical evacuations in Afghanistan.

Major Maureen Hightower, 446th AES unit deployment manager, describes how she prepares AES members that are often tasked with sudden and unpredictable assignments across a wide range of threat levels.

"We get them ready for every scenario," explained Hightower, "every situation possible. You plan for the worst and then you're pleasantly surprised when it's not."

For Knight, the deployment was more than just unpredictable, however, it was a brand new.

"I had not been downrange before," said Knight, "I had not gone and lived out there for a long period of time. The security piece to it and being under attack a lot was an adjustment. For my part I can go out and be the leader because I know the medical piece, but the part about security and threats were very different."

Faced with seemingly overwhelming circumstances, Knight did her best to rise to the challenge and lead the 35 airmen assigned to her from across nine different home squadrons.

"As a leader I knew none of those people when I went out there," said Knight, "so you have to build those relationships very quickly because it's a short deployment. When we all pull together, we all do the same job, and we were able to come together and do the job just like all of us were from McChord."

Amongst the biggest tests of Knight's command came Oct. 2 when a C-130 from Bagram crashed at nearby Jalalabad Airport, killing 14.

"That could have been us, said Knight. "I could've lost a crew because we were out on another bird flying somewhere else at that same time."

The crew that flew the fateful mission was part of a squadron from Dyess Air Force Base that was regular partners with Knight's medical team.

"It was significant," said Knight. "We felt the impact because they were our transport. As a commander I had to make sure that I was right and that they were right so that they could get back up on the plane and fly again, because they're getting back on those same planes where there was a mishap. And you could feel it for the first couple weeks to a month."

The crash sent shockwaves throughout the Air Force community, as Capt. Benjamin Schultze, 446th AES flight nurse, recalled from his deployment to Ramstein Air Base at the same time.

"When we were in Germany and that plane crashed, we were affected by it just as much," said Schultze, "because all their bodies came through Ramstein and we were all very aware that it could have been any one of us on that plane."

"How do you get back on the horse again?" asked Knight. "And getting onto a horse is a lot smaller than getting onto one of those C-130s."

As Knight's squadron wrestled with the human toll of the incident, she had to find a way to remain steady in the face of fear and uncertainty.

"As a leader I had to provide that stability for my folks," said Knight. "Whether it's physically, emotionally, mentally or whatever it is. I had a few folks that struggled because it was their first time in that environment, and I hadn't been there either, but I had to figure it out quick, and use my resources to regroup."

A few short months later, tragedy would strike again when a suicide bomber drove onto the base three days before Christmas, killing six.

"One of them lived three doors down from me," said Knight. "It's a small world when you're out there, you're around each other all the time, so it's impactful. I had to show that I wasn't afraid or struggling."

Despite the fact that Knight's deployment only lasted five months, she was able to arm herself with a trove of valuable experiences learned from her adversity, and pass them on to her squadron back home at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"I wanted to come back and brief people heading out to let them know what it's like out there. "This is not Hawaii, it's Afghanistan," said Knight, "and even if it just helped one person, that's enough."

March 30, 2017 at 4:58pm

McChord youth wins MYOY

Pictured in the photo from left to right: Zebbie Castilleja (2016 Youth of the Year - Boys and Girls Club of Benton and Franklin counties), Nyah Hall, Brianna Mitchell, and Chief Ken Hohenberg. Courtesy photo

Nyah Hall, dependent of Tech. Sgt. Quincy Hall, 62nd Operations Support Squadron loadmaster and a sophomore at Clover Park High School, spoke to an audience of distinguished guests about the impact the Boys and Girls Club has had on her life, and her vision for the youth of America in addition to demonstrating poise under pressure during four interview sessions.

"In order to be considered for Military Youth of the Year I had to submit three essays," Nyah said. "The topics were my interests, my Boys and Girls Club experience and what I wanted for the youth of the nation. The speech I made during the competition was a combination of those three essays."

In the days leading to the main event, Nyah and fellow Youth of the Year contestants had the opportunity to practice their speeches in the Space Needle, and meet with local legislative officials including Governor Jay Inslee.

Despite the title at stake, there was no animosity amongst the competitors.

"The counselors who went to Seattle with us said in previous years ‘Youth of the Year' nominees had been more competitive toward each other," Nyah explained. "My group was so friendly; after knowing each other for only three days we became like a little family."

That feeling deepened as each nominee delivered their speeches and Nyah was able to learn more about her newfound friends.

"I was listening to the speeches and thinking about how amazing these people were for overcoming difficult times in their lives to end up here, braver and stronger than they were before," Nyah said.

Though impressed by each Youth of the Year contestant, Nyah was prepared when the time came to take center stage. A lifetime member of the Boys and Girls Club, Nyah and her mother had been taking steps to compete for the Military Youth of the Year title and scholarship for several years.

"I have been part of the Boys and Girls Club for my whole life," Nyah said. "My mom wanted me to gain experience from this competition and has been encouraging me to prepare since the sixth grade."

The thought of public speaking is enough to paralyze many adults with fear, but 15-year-old Nyah was calm, cool and collected as she addressed a ballroom full of guests, all hanging on her every word.

"When I'm speaking I look at people throughout the audience, focus on what I'm saying, and don't let anyone or anything get to me."

According to Nyah's father Quincy, watching their daughter in the throes of competition induced a range of emotions for him and Corinthia Hall, Nyah's mother.

"My wife was nervous the whole time, but I had an unexplainable peace come over me," Quincy said. "When they announced her name I wasn't surprised at all; I was very proud, but not surprised."

Quincy wasn't the only overjoyed member of the Hall family in the ballroom that night.

"I was excited," Nyah said, smiling. "I was really nervous standing on stage waiting for the announcement, but when they said my name I was just so excited."

Well on her way to a successful life, Nyah plans to utilize her scholastic talent to serve.

"I hope to attend the University of Washington and earn a Bachelor of Science," Nyah said. "I want to be a flight nurse in the Air Force."

Proud parents Quincy and Corinthia have sweet and simple advice for their trailblazer.

"Stick with it," Quincy said. "Know that we're here for you and continue to trust in God."

March 30, 2017 at 4:53pm

627th airmen identify vehicle issue - saves Air Force $68k

Senior Airman William Schlee (left), and Airman 1st Class Justyn Zangwill, detangle hoses on a McChord Field fire truck, March 21, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Senior Airman Divine Cox

According to Micromain Corporation, doing preventative maintenance on your vehicle is one of the easiest ways to save money in the long run.

Maintenance airmen from the 627th Logistic Readiness Squadron learned first-hand just how important performing preventative maintenance really is.

"The 627th Civil Engineer Squadron fire fighters were out working and noticed a couple issues with their fire truck," said Nicholas Deleon, 627th LRS Heavy mobile equipment mechanic leader. "So they brought the fire truck to us to figure out what the issues were."

Airman 1st Class Justyn Zangwill, 627th LRS fire truck and refuel maintenance journeyman, said when they were testing the truck, they noticed the fire truck wasn't driving and pumping water at the same time like it was designed to.

"We noticed a couple issues with the truck when we tested it in the compound," said Zangwill.

Once the airmen isolated the problem, they had to remove the engine and the power divider assembly, to locate seven broken bolts and a broken spring inside the torsion coupler.

"We've been told by an outside corporation that the engine with the power divider is something they don't use anymore, but it can break every five years," said Zangwill. "One was replaced before I got here, so it was a matter of time before it needed to be fixed again."

Zangwill said the power divider and the torsion coupler is a very important piece to the fire truck.

"The torsion coupler compress everything together when you engage the pumps, but the torsion reduces the shock on the springs," said Zangwill. "The power divider (pump and roll), will engage the pump, so you are able to drive forward while pumping out water or foam. If you engage the pumps and the truck automatically starts trying to take off, that means there's a problem. Which in this case was the broken bolts and springs we found."

Because of the quick response and knowledge of the small three-person fire truck maintenance shop, the airmen saved the Air Force thousands of dollars.

"I estimated that this project would have cost us close to $70,000 if we would have contracted it out," said Deleon. "The closest company we found that does this project was in Canada, and we would have had to ship the entire vehicle and pay for parts and labor."

The airmen provided a solution that took three weeks and only cost the Air Force $2,000 in parts.

Zangwill said he was glad that the maintenance shop was able to find the problem and fix it.

"Everybody knows that one of the Air Force missions is moving people and cargo," said Deleon. "The planes aren't allowed to take off unless there are aircraft fire trucks on the flightline ready, in case of an emergency. If we weren't here to fix the fire trucks, then the planes couldn't take off and complete their mission."

March 30, 2017 at 4:49pm

McChord crew chiefs

Senior Airman Facundo Santamina (left) and Staff Sgt. James Pomeroy review a technical order prior to performing maintenance on a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft March 20, 2017 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez

C-17 Globemaster III aircraft on McChord Field cannot takeoff without the help of the 62nd Maintenance Group crew chiefs. A jack of all trades and a generalist in aircraft maintenance, crew chiefs are responsible for maintaining all of the 48 C-17s assigned to McChord.

"We are the first line of defense when it comes to maintenance," said Senior Airman Facundo Santamina, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "We are the first ones on the flightline and the first ones to fix it. If we can't, we will call a specialist."

Being the first in line of responsibility to maintain aircraft, crew chiefs are charged with ensuring aircraft are airworthy and ready to fly at a moment's notice.

To ensure the safety of aircraft, crew chiefs have a large number of duties they are trained in and perform regularly, and one of those is pre-flighting aircraft.

"Preflights are done for every aircraft that takes off within a 72-hour window from departure," said Santamina. "We look for general safety items."

"A standard pre-flight makes sure the aircraft is airworthy by looking for anything broken, lights not working, faulty systems, or issues with the landing gear."  

To perform a pre-flight, crew chiefs have to have a general knowledge of many different maintenance specialties.

"A good crew chief is jack of all trades," said Santamina. "A good crew chief will know specifics of different aircraft systems and will always be learning about their assigned airframe."

In order to inspect and diagnose aircraft maintenance issues, crew chiefs go through more than five months of technical training and many months of on-the-job training. They are required to adhere to strict technical orders and checklists for every maintenance action performed.  

"The challenging part is that we have so much to learn, and that we are expected to know so much," said Santamina. "There is so much we need to know and to be familiar with. There is way more that goes into it than just turning wrenches and screws."

Besides pre-flighting and coordinating maintenance of aircraft, crew chiefs are the first and last person that aircrew see when departing and arriving at McChord Field. They are responsible for marshalling all aircraft leaving and arriving on the flightline.

"We launch, recover and maintain aircraft," said Santamina. "We do whatever we have to do to get a jet in the air and take care of it when it gets back down."

Without crew chiefs, missions couldn't be accomplished, said Master Sgt. Kelly Martin, 62nd AMXS section chief.

"Crew chiefs at McChord are a very important part of the mission," said Martin. "They're responsible for getting the aircraft ready for daily training flight activities and global mobility missions."

Working around the clock, McChord crew chiefs provide maintenance expertise in any situation, said Martin.

"They're dedicated to getting the mission accomplished every day no matter what working conditions, time frame, or outdoor weather they will have to deal with," said Martin. "They get the aircraft off the ground safely and on-time."

March 30, 2017 at 4:45pm

Team McChord gains new "Pilot for a Day"

Stillen Rivera, Team McChord’s newest “Pilot for a Day” participant, gets fitted for night-vision goggles at the 62nd Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment section, March 23. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz

Team McChord's newest pilot had a busy first day.

"Pilot for a Day" participant, Stillen Rivera, along with his mother, sister and grandparents, tested out the emergency evacuation hanging harness and climbed to the top of the command tower; they got the chance to try out night vision goggles with the 62nd Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment section and tour the inside of a C-17 after taking the aircraft for a spin in a flight simulator. Last but not least, Stillen received a coveted commander's coin from Col. Leonard Kosinski, 62nd Airlift Wing commander.

The "Pilot for a Day" program, which has been hosted by Team McChord for several years, provides youth with a limiting disability, the opportunity to live out their life-long dreams of aviation and share those memorable experiences with their family by their side.

"This opportunity presented itself to us in a random way," said Amy Charles, Stillen's mother. "My sister asked people to send birthday cards to Stillen, and instead they threw him a surprise party. One of the guests asked whether I had heard of the "Pilot for a Day" program; I looked into it, and submitted an application."

According to Charles, Stillen has always had a deep respect for those who put their lives on the line to protect others. She thought the pilot program was a perfect fit for 15-year-old Stillen.

"Stillen really looks up to military members, police officers, and anyone who goes out of their way to stand up for others, and the things they believe in," Charles explained.

Though there were many top contenders, the most unforgettable experience of the day was flying the C-17 in the flight simulator for obvious reasons, Stillen said.

"The day was altogether overwhelming," Charles said. "I think we will still be processing all the amazing things we were able to see and do for weeks to come. It has been an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, and most of all, for Stillen. We are so grateful."

March 30, 2017 at 4:42pm

Training fuels confidence

Members from the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron take part in a combat trauma course that simulated hyper-realistic conditions to fully engage participants in a war zone environment. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

The 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord was trained during their annual tour at Naval Medical Center San Diego's Medical Surgical Simulation Center.

Among the most impressive of the trainings offered was a combat trauma course that simulated hyper-realistic conditions to fully engage participants in a war zone environment.

"It's almost like a movie set with burnt out cars, helicopters stuck in the side of buildings, loud noises simulating bombs - it's total immersion," said Col. Paul Abson, 446th AMDS commander. "Instructors run around like they're the enemies, and they are all combat veterans."

NMCSD provides vital training during a two-day pre-deployment trauma course. The course covers common injuries that occur from combat trauma, such as improvised explosive device blast injuries, airway closures or blockages, large abdominal injuries and also medical evacuation training, according to the U.S. Navy.

Of the 19 airmen that were sent down for the training, only three had the extraordinary opportunity to experience the combat trauma course.

"It was great because it was a tour that offered training for all of our AFSCs (Air Force Specialty Codes)," said Lt. Col. Bob Mayor, 446th AMDS senior administrator. "Other tours maybe could just take our dental or administrative folks, but this one was able to use all of the sections and capabilities of the medical center to accommodate us."

The realistic training environment had a significant impact on participants.

"It was real as it gets using live patients who were real veterans with real amputations, and they gave them the ability to act out true feelings with nothing held back," said Senior Airman Gratian Sutton, 446th AMDS aerospace medical technician. "It was extremely compelling, and they were using Hollywood effects. It wasn't a half-job training, it was the full effect."

The combat realism training was a somewhat unusual venue for an AMDS squadron that usually has its hands full with real patients during Unit Training Assemblies.

"It's extremely rare for our guys to get this kind of experience and training," said Mayor. "Because we have an important mission during the UTA, it's harder for us to create opportunities like this."

The combat trauma training venue covered a variety concepts critical for learning how to perform as a combat medic.

"It covered combat casualty care, needle decompressions, tourniquet use, wound management, status concerns, litter carry, rear and front security, and we all cycled through different roles," explained Sutton.

The annual tour also offered unique training opportunities in other venues.

"The optometry department there had state-of-the-art digital refracting equipment," said Abson, "That means that we get to train on equipment that is the top of the line. So a unique capability of that facility is that it offers very high level and advanced equipment. It allows us to be at forefront of the field."

For many on the tour, the training imparted knowledge and capabilities that will not soon be lost.

"It gave me confidence to keep calm in a real-life scenario," said Sutton. "If something were to happen right now I don't think I'd have a problem, and I don't think I'll lose that experience. This is not one of those where you do it and then forget it, this is one of those where you do it, you experience it and you'll never forget it."

March 30, 2017 at 4:38pm

McChord power couple

Master Sgt. Theodore (T.J.) McKee and wife, Master Sgt. Tiffany McKee, pose for a photo on the McChord Field flightline at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, March 16. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz

The deal was sealed in 2012, when Tiffany unleashed a pick-up line so Air Force it would make Uncle Sam blush, and asked T.J. for help perfecting her 90-degree push-up form.

"I had been a personnelist for twelve years when I received an order of retraining into logistics plans," Tiffany said. "When I arrived at Little Rock (Air Force Base, Arkansas), I wondered what this new path had in store for me. Then I walked into the gym, saw T.J., and thought, ‘Yeah, I need some help working out.'"

As the adage goes, first comes love, then comes marriage.

"We got married in March 2013," T.J. said. "In May, Tiffany deployed and shortly after her return received a short-tour assignment to Korea. By the time she came back to the states, I was at the NCO Academy and afterward, onto a year-long assignment to southwest Asia."

Instances of poor timing kept the newlyweds apart for more than two years, but when they reunited at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2016, the McKees were more balanced, and better than ever.

"We're yin and yang," Tiffany said. "We feed off each other and it's a perfect balance. We are able to be focused and goal-oriented at work, and happy and content at home effortlessly."

T.J. echoed his wife's sentiments.

"We bounce ideas off of one another," the newly-minted master sergeant said. "When I first met Tiffany she was very stern, but I'm a people-person and a bit of that rubbed off on her. As for me, I wasn't always career-oriented, and she has helped me grow in that area of my life."

As the accolades imply, both McKees are excelling on-the-job. Tiffany was vectored in the top 19 percent of 117 master sergeants in the logistics plans career field. T.J. aspires to be a first sergeant, and is renowned within his squadron for his ability to not only take care of the mission, but the airmen who accomplish it.

Living a life that reflects integrity, service and excellence through life's highs and lows is no small feat, but this Air Force power couple is proof that it can be done.

"I have this drive to wake up every day and be better than I was yesterday; to do more than I did yesterday," Tiffany said. "Nobody wakes up thinking, ‘I want to be a failure today.' It's all about self-improvement a little bit at a time, every single day."

T.J.'s source of success, and the lesson he hopes to impart to his fellow airmen, is a simple one:

"Don't let anybody tell you you can't," T.J. said. "Even if the odds are against you, push forward and give it your best."

March 23, 2017 at 5:35pm

USO Shali Center continues support for troops

Kate Jones, United Service Organizations Northwest Shali Center volunteer, serves lunch to Staff Sgt. Evan Cooper, 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron medical technician March 21 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Senior Airman Divine Cox

Since 1941, the United Service Organizations (USO) has kept military men and women connected to their families, homes and country no matter where they are, or under what conditions they serve.

The USO Northwest has been servicing the surrounding area since 1966 and continues to serve the men and women of Joint Base Lewis-McChord today.

The USO Northwest Shali Center, located near the McChord Field flightline, was remodeled and renamed in 2012 after the late Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton and USO supporter.

Andrew Oczkewicz, director of operations for USO Northwest at JBLM, said the Shali Center and its volunteers do everything they can to support the servicemembers of JBLM.

"Our staff and volunteers provide programs and services developed to meet the unique needs of today's military and their families," said Oczkewicz. "We have about 120 volunteers on our staff and they are all here to help serve our servicemembers, families and veterans."

Oczkewicz said that most USOs provide the same services - a troop lounge, computer with Internet access, games and meals - but the Shali Center is designed to support one specific mission.

"The Shali Center was designed to move massive deployments," said Oczkewicz. "We have made the commitment to serve military and their families and give back one hundred percent to benefit units. Our record is 4,659 troops served in a 72-hour period. We are a troop-first USO."

The Shali Center and its staff of volunteers stay busy throughout the year serving more than 48,000 troops annually.

"I think everybody should give back in some way," said Wayne Jackson, USO Northwest Shali Center volunteer and retired Army staff sergeant. "The USO really benefits the troops here because they can get a free lunch and have a short break from work to socialize and eat."

Oczkewicz believes that having the Shali Center located on base is a huge bonus for the troops because the USO is very accessible and close to the servicemembers.

Senior Airman Ronald Shaw, 62nd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, takes advantage of the services the USO provides and all it has to offer.

"Having the USO here on base is a blessing," said Shaw. "Not only are the meals free, but it is a place where I can go for lunch and relax in a good atmosphere. I am forever thankful for all that the USO does for us (servicemembers) and the support they give us for serving our country."

For more information on the USO Northwest Shali Center, call 253.982.1100.

For more information about the USO or how you can donate, go to

March 23, 2017 at 5:32pm

Flares and munitions - 62nd MXS ammo

Staff Sgt. Chad Warner unloads squibs or impulse cartridges, which provide a small propellant charge that ignite the flare stick, to build flares for the C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, March 14.

In a warehouse located on the 62nd Maintenance Squadron ammunitions grounds on McChord Field is the conventional maintenance production flight, which is responsible for maintaining all of the flares and ammo for Team McChord at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Staff Sgt. Chad Warner, 62nd Maintenance Squadron conventional maintenance production superintendent, helps maintain the flare systems for the C-17s as well as oversees the production and tear down of the flare systems.

These aircraft-dispensed flares are used as infrared countermeasures designed to defeat heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles.

"We process all the flares for the jets on the flight line," said Warner. "We host quarterly builds to keep the built-up flare levels at a sufficient amount to support all the missions here and overseas. We build flares for training missions and real-world missions for overseas deployment and the Antarctica missions."

The flight tracks the lifespan on all flare systems to anticipate which ones require replacement.

"First, we do a little research on the upcoming months for the flare sets that will be expiring," said Warner. "Every four months we will have a set of flares that will be expiring; we use this number to determine how many flares we want to build."

They use two different types of squib or impulse cartridges for the four different types of flares the C-17 here at McChord uses.

The squibs provide a small propellant charge that ignites the flare stick.  

"We do the build and then we'll start pulling the flares from the flight line and swapping them," said Warner. "The flare sticks themselves get put inside bulk quantity cans."

After the build is complete, they track where all the flare sets are in the world for the 48 C-17s assigned to McChord. They do this in case a set is coming up on expiration and is away from home station.

"It's imperative that we configure everything correctly and follow our books step by step," said Tech. Sgt. Bejan Saatchi, 62nd MXS conventional maintenance NCOIC. "It's definitely important for the jets that the flare systems are loaded in the mods correctly so that way the countermeasure systems function the way they're intended to.

"It's imperative we don't send a jet downrange with expired flares on it; those systems are lifesaving and it's what they would use to stop a threat."

They are fired off regularly for training missions and are sometimes used in deployed locations, according to Saatchi.

"They come back with expenditures - we're not informed of the circumstances but we do know that they work," said Saatchi. "It's definitely good knowing that we're helping protect the aircrew and aircraft."

Each flare set is worth approximately $50,000.

"We do a lot more than just manage the flares for the aircraft," said Saatchi. "We're responsible for all the munitions on McChord, which includes thirty-eight custody accounts."

Any organization that uses any type of explosives to include pepper spray and ammo depend on the 62nd MXS ammo flight to inspect it, issue it to them and track it all.

March 23, 2017 at 5:28pm

100 sorties a day

A group of seven Mobility Guardian planners stand in front of a C-17 Globemaster III in a McChord Field hangar at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, March 15. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Naomi Shipley

A group of seven Mobility Guardian planners have been working tirelessly to coordinate the 100 sorties a day that will be flying out of McChord Field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord during this summer's projected Air Mobility Command Mobility Guardian exercise.

Maj. Sean McConville, 62nd Airlift Wing Mobility Guardian air planner and McChord C-17 weapons officer, has been the point of contact for the exercise at McChord, and thoroughly involved in all things airspace related.

"As we go through the airspace control plan, I want to bring everyone's focus back to our statement going in, ‘We want to build an exercise where we train the way we fight,'" said McConville. "We're essentially coming up with the airspace plan."

Members of the planning team came from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington; Altus AFB, Oklahoma; Dyess AFB, Texas; and Charleston AFB, South Carolina, to collaborate and create a final product for the exercise.

"Experts from the different mobility air forces weapons schools came together to figure out how we're going to utilize the air space to meet our training objectives and also ensure that everything is safely de-conflicted," said McConville. "So when we go down range we have plans that articulate how the air space is coordinated between the different coalition assets in the different areas of operation."

The challenges facing the planners are plenty, but the group remains heavily optimistic in their ability to overcome them.

"There a whole lot of moving parts," said McConville.  

Those moving parts are the dozens of multi-national aircraft that will be flying during the exercise and numerous air traffic control towers that regulate the varying air space.  

Fortunately, McConville said Mr. Lee Alvarez, 62nd Operations Support Squadron air space management chief, has gone above and beyond to help in this process.

"Mr. Lee Alvarez has been incredibly helpful in ensuring the various air traffic control towers are on board," said McConville.

McConville said that he is also extremely grateful for the support we've been given, particularly by Seattle Center.

The magnitude of this exercise is unprecedented for Air Mobility Command, according to McConville.

"We're looking at about one hundred sorties a day out of McChord," said McConville. "It will be the largest continuous exercise that we've ever launched out of here and it will also be the first time we've worked with the combat air forces. As we see our mission set evolving down range, we're trying to capture that in the exercise; it's utterly essential."

McConville said there is always room to improve training.

"We're bringing crews from across the mobility air forces to get exposure and we are re-focusing some of the training programs to update the way we do business," said McConville. "I'm grateful to the different wings for allocating these people who are all in high demand from across the mobility air forces to help us deliver on our promise to AMC and give them a worthwhile exercise."

The goal is to have an exercise that reflects the mobility air forces evolving mission set, so that crews can go safely, execute and garner worthwhile lessons-learned.

One of the planners helping contribute to this plan is Capt. Mark Wilson, 39th Airlift Squadron chief of tactics at Dyess AFB and lead C-130 planner for Mobility Guardian.

His focus area is C-130-specific training objectives.

"This is the largest exercise I've been a part of," said Wilson.  "So far I think it's a big challenge for us to face, but one that needs to be done."

Thousands of participants from all over the world and Air Force will be coming together for two weeks to validate this exercise.

"We're going to be able to do it and it's going to be very beneficial," said Wilson. "In the Mobility Air Forces and the rest of the Air Force, we are very operationally focused on the present and this exercise will continue to refine those skills, but also focus on future potential adversaries that we don't get to focus on at home station.

"What we definitely don't get to do often is train with our international partners, and in the event that we are called upon to do this in the real world, we're going to do this alongside them, so getting to train with them in this controlled environment where we can develop and grow as a community is extremely beneficial."

Mobility Guardian is scheduled for Aug. 1-17. For more information, call the McChord Mobility Guardian office at 253.982.6027.

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