A Smooth Flight in the Making

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brendan Steinbach, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, sits on the back of an HC-130 Combat King and reviews technical orders during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Reviews Technical Orders on HC-130

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brendan Steinbach, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, sits on the back of an HC-130 Combat King and reviews technical orders during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa unit is responsible for personnel recovery within East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.  They execute crisis response to recover U.S. and allied military, diplomatic and civilian personnel.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Henry Ehard, left, and Airman 1st Class Jered Treichel, both 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron loadmasters, prepare an HC-130 Combat King for flight while on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Loadmasters Prepare HC-130 For Flight

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Henry Ehard, left, and Airman 1st Class Jered Treichel, both 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron loadmasters, prepare an HC-130 Combat King for flight while on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa unit is responsible for personnel recovery within East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They execute crisis response to recover U.S. and allied military, diplomatic and civilian personnel.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jered Treichel, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron loadmaster, calculates weight and balance for a HC-130 Combat King during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Loadmaster Calculates Weight and Balance for HC-130

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jered Treichel, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron loadmaster, calculates weight and balance for a HC-130 Combat King during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa unit is responsible for personnel recovery within East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They execute crisis response to recover U.S. and allied military, diplomatic and civilian personnel.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brendan Steinbach, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, wipes down windows of an HC-130 Combat King during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Member Wipes Down HC-130 Windows

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brendan Steinbach, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, wipes down windows of an HC-130 Combat King during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa unit is responsible for personnel recovery within East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They execute crisis response to recover U.S. and allied military, diplomatic and civilian personnel.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erich Goen, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, check an HC-130 Combat King intake during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014. 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Member Checks HC-130 Intake During Pre-Flight Inspection U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erich Goen, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, check an HC-130 Combat King intake during a pre-flight inspection on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 18, 2014.

The 24/7 alert mission in East Africa is a critical job for the 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS); lives depend upon them being ready within a moment’s notice.

The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa unit is responsible for personnel recovery within East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.  They execute crisis response to recover U.S. and allied military, diplomatic and civilian personnel.

However, it’s up to the Airmen of the 81st ERQS to ensure the HC-130 Combat Kings are up to par and ready to carry out their mission.

“With a personnel recovery, when you’re on alert, you have someone’s life in the balance,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Drew Vorhies, 81st ERQS maintenance officer in charge. “There’s no room for error or delays, you always hope the plane is going to start right up on an alert.”

Sometimes aircraft complications arise once engines are started; this is due mainly to the age of the aircraft, with most being manufactured during the 1960s.

Those cases are referred to as ‘red-ball’ maintenance. Pilots encounter a malfunction after firing up the engines for takeoff and one of the several specialty maintainers must quickly react.

“The door opens, the (Airman) runs on board to troubleshoot the problem and get the aircrew (ready to go),” said Vorhies, a Kline, Texas native. “In an alert response it’s critical…to have good maintainers ready to go.”

Problems typically fit into one of five main categories: hydraulics, communication and navigation, guidance and controls, engines, and electric and environmental. Each of the fields has an Airman who has mastered their craft.

Then, there’s a crew chief who oversees the maintainer team. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andre Owens is one of the 81st ERQS maintenance crew chiefs who ensure the aircraft are ready to go at any moment.

“(I make sure we’re) getting the job done, making sure this plane is top notch for when the flight crew comes out and steps to the plane,” Owens said.

Due to high temperatures and the location of Djibouti, Owens said the logistical part of preparing his aircraft isn’t always easy. It’s not like at his home station of Moody Air Force Base, Ga. where parts are readily available. However, he said, “we’re taught to adapt and overcome.”

Owens, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, said this has been his best deployed experience because of the Airmen he’s had the privilege of working with.

Owens said the group of Airmen he works with, have really been going above and beyond to make sure they accomplish the task.  “They’re trying to learn each other’s job so that we’re all pretty much interchangeable.”

Owens said the Airmen he works with understand the big picture, and how important their role is in getting the aircraft up in the air with no or minimal delay.

“The little that we think we’re doing, really does impact the mission,” he said.

Tags

U.S. Air Force 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron

We suggest

81st ERQS maintainers: CSAR’s hidden heroes

Aircraft maintainers come face-to-face with those challenges every day; they are responsible for putting the 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron’s C-130J Hercules in the air.

CJTF-HOA, Camp honor fallen SEAL with unconventional Memorial Day practice

Approximately 200 multinational military members and civilians commemorated Memorial Day by participating in a classic CrossFit challenge here, May 27.

153rd Cavalry Regiment holds Spur Ride in Djibouti, Africa

Twenty-eight U.S. Army Soldiers and one Air Force Airman participated in an Army traditional event, a Spur Ride, to earn their silver spurs, Oct. 21, 2016, at a nearby airfield in Djibouti.

Professional development: Combined Joint Forces senior enlisted leaders attend course

Senior military leaders from Japan, Italy and the U.S. attended a Combined Joint Forces Senior Enlisted Leader Professional Development (CJFSELPD) course in Djibouti, June 8, 2016.

Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa representatives attend Gender Mainstreaming Seminar

Representatives from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa attended a Gender Mainstreaming Seminar recently in Arusha, Tanzania.