353rd SOMXS Maintainers keep the MC-130J Commando II flying

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Peter Reft
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Shaun Smith strapped himself to an anchor point inside his MC-130J Commando II cargo plane to observe in-flight refueling with an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter April, 2015, over the Philippine Sea.

From the open cargo bay door, Smith watched Pave Hawk pilots skillfully maneuver their aircraft into position with the mid-air fuel line. He waved to the aircrew as they filled up their tanks.

"I feel very blessed to be able to do these things and for it to be my job," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Shaun Smith, a 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron MC-130J Commando II crew chief. "There's really nothing like it when you have your feet dangling over the ocean."

Smith's job tasks him with the responsibility of making sure the $67 million aircraft is always ready to fly.

"I'm the go-to guy directing where work and maintenance needs to go, and I need to know about any issues with my aircraft at all times," said Smith.

MC-130J crew chiefs take pride in owning their aircraft. After six months of intensive schooling and countless on-the-job training hours, maintainers like Smith get to see their own names painted on the side of their aircraft.

"Hands down, the people with their name on the planes are considered the upper echelon of crew chiefs," said Staff Sgt. Donald Burwell, 353rd SOMXS MC-130J crew chief. "They have earned this through hard work, dedication, and going above and beyond when it comes to working these planes."

Working with their hands every day, Smith and the other 353rd SOMXS maintainers see the fruits of their labors every time their MC-130J's return from flying.

"It's cool to be part of the reason it's flying and to be a part of the mission itself," Smith said. "I know I'm not the one flying the plane, but I'm the one who enabled it to fly, go where it needs to go, do the mission, and come back safely."

Safety for the aircrew is paramount to crew chiefs.

"Pilots put a lot of trust in the maintainers," said Smith. "If they have any questions about the aircraft, we can answer them spot on so the pilots can feel safe. That's the biggest thing."

Teams of maintainers work together around the clock to inspect each aircraft and detect any issues.

"Camaraderie is good, and there's competition between crews of each airplane," said Smith. "We give each other a hard time, but at the end of the day, we all are helping each other out, making sure both new and experienced Airmen are on the same page."

That teamwork pays off for crews, and teams that excel earn flying time with their aircraft.

"The more mission capable your plane is, the more likely it is that you go to a temporary duty station and see and experience new places," said Burwell.

Working hard and seeing the effort pay off made being an MC-130 crew chief the right career field for Airmen like Smith.

"You get to travel everywhere, earn recognition from your leaders, and see you own name on the side of that aircraft," he said. "There's really nothing like that anywhere else in the world."