First Impressions: U.S. Air Force Meets Djibouti Air Force

DJIBOUTI - U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Norberto Nieves, left, and Staff Sergeant Ely Thomas, right, both deployed with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, pose for a photo with Djibouti Air Force Major Abdoul Kaderarreh October 2, 2010. Nieves and Thomas met service members of the Djibouti Air Force while making repairs to their Eurocopter Twin Squirrel aircraft that was damaged in a major wind storm that hit the area in August. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sergeant Randall Becker) CJTF-HOA Photo DJIBOUTI - U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Norberto Nieves, left, and Staff Sergeant Ely Thomas, right, both deployed with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, pose for a photo with Djibouti Air Force Major Abdoul Kaderarreh October 2, 2010. Nieves and Thomas met service members of the Djibouti Air Force while making repairs to their Eurocopter Twin Squirrel aircraft that was damaged in a major wind storm that hit the area in August. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sergeant Randall Becker)
DJIBOUTI - U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Ely Thomas, left, and Technical Sergeant Norberto Nieves, both of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn, Africa 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, repair and install a hinge bracket on a Eurocopter Twin Squirrel aircraft October 2, 2010. The helicopter belonged to the Djibouti Air Force and had been grounded after a major wind storm hit the area in August. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sergeant Randall Becker) CJTF-HOA Photo DJIBOUTI - U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Ely Thomas, left, and Technical Sergeant Norberto Nieves, both of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn, Africa 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, repair and install a hinge bracket on a Eurocopter Twin Squirrel aircraft October 2, 2010. The helicopter belonged to the Djibouti Air Force and had been grounded after a major wind storm hit the area in August. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sergeant Randall Becker)

Leadership of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group, attached to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, met with members of the Djiboutian Air Force for breakfast to exchange ideas on aircraft maintenance September 22, 2010. This is the first interaction between the maintenance crews of the two nations' air forces.

"We talked about how we maintain aircraft in unfriendly conditions," said Chief Master Sergeant Randall Becker, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron maintenance superintendant. "At our home base we are right on the water just like they are. Fighting corrosion is a huge part of our job."

Becker and his maintenance crew are deployed from the 920th Rescue Wing of Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, an installation built on a barrier island of the state's Atlantic coastline. With the Djibouti-Ambouli Airport runway ending just shy of the Gulf of Aden, the humid sea air would have the same corrosive effects on aircraft as their U.S. counterparts.

During the course of the meal, it was mentioned that when a major wind storm passed through Djibouti in mid-August, an aircraft hanger collapsed, taking off a door of one of their Eurocopter Twin Squirrel aircraft. A hinge bracket holding the door on was bent, shearing the rivets that held the door in place. The helicopter had been grounded ever since.

The Djiboutian maintenance team had only two tool boxes and no rivets. "What would be a small hurdle for us was a show stopper for them," said Becker. It was agreed that Staff Sergeant Ely Thomas, aircraft structural maintenance craftsman, and Technical Sergeant Noberto Nieves, aerospace maintenance craftsman, would go to the airport the following week with new rivets to reform the bracket and reattach the door.

"The Djiboutians walked us around the hanger, pointing at things and sharing information with us about their aircraft," said Thomas.

Though there was a communication barrier, as French is the official language of Djibouti, it didn't prevent either party from being less attentive to the other. "They were very enthusiastic that we came over and helped them," said Thomas. "They were watching how I did the riveting and taking in our maintenance processes."

With the door now in place, all other parts en route to the Djibouti team can be used to complete repairs.

The 81st EQRS maintenance crew, though due to be replaced with new faces soon, established a relationship between the two countries to endure the U.S. Air Force's constant rotation schedule.

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