When the 134th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron arrived at the 407th Air Expeditionary Group in early December, few people outside of the two units would have expected them to generate combat airpower 15 hours after landing.
But that is exactly what the Airmen here did.
“Typically it will take at least 48 hours to start running aircraft through and provide combat effective aircraft, but the nation called and asked us to produce those aircraft in a much shorter time frame,” said Lt. Col. Brian Lepine, 407th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron commander.
For the Airmen already stationed at the 407th AEG this was validation of the bed-down capabilities they had worked hard to fine tune throughout their deployment.
“The whole time we have advertised that we can accept aircraft and generate combat airpower within 24 hours,” said Maj. John Green, 407th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron commander. “We’ve always said, ‘we are going to set you up for success and you are going to be ready to rock when you hit the ground,’ and that is what we’ve done.”
Having aircraft and personnel ready to fly combat missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve less than a day after arrival is a more complicated task than it may seem on the surface.
One of the major challenges presented to the unit was the phased cycles of maintenance required by the F-16 Fighting Falcons. In addition to other incremental maintenance, these jets require an extremely detailed inspection after every 300 hours of flight. It is critical to that the aircraft deployed here hit that mark at staggered intervals to keep a healthy squadron in the fight.
“They are going to look at every nook and cranny and make sure that there is not chafing of the wires and look at areas that we don’t typically look at post- and pre-flight,” Lepine said. “Typically for a guard unit, that will be every year and a half. We are going to do every aircraft in the time we are here at least once on that phase line.”
Knowing that the F-16 would be flying so many more hours than usual, the unit did not want to bring jets that would be coming up on major maintenance overhauls during the deployment. Because of this, an Air National Guard unit ordinarily has about 12 months to prepare for deployment – the 134th EFS had one month.
To ensure there would be enough capable jets available to meet the high demand for the air-to-ground capabilities the unit is providing, Air National Guard units from across the nation offered to help. In addition to personnel from various units, Alabama, New Jersey and Wisconsin all provided F-16s for the mission.
“Those Airmen out there were doing that heavy maintenance for us as well, so it really was a collection of all of us pulling together,” Lepine said. “When we called in those resources, they weren’t just polishing canopies. They were making sure that the aircraft were ready to go.”
While the maintainers were prepping jets at home, the 407th AEG was working with an advanced team of Airmen from the fighter squadron to ensure the base was ready when they arrived. Many of those Airmen are full-time guardsmen who had to leave their civilian lives behind in a hurry to get here on time.
“Our Airmen had to drop all of what they were doing to do that,” Lepine said. “They had to go to their civilian employer and say I am not coming to work in about a week.”
But the Airmen encountered few problems in doing so.
“It was very heartwarming to know that the community where we live in the Burlington (Vermont) area is so in support of us being here,” he said. “That relieved a lot of the pressures from the Airmen.”
One of the first teams to arrive in theater was Ammo.
“We have munitions in place, but we needed a team to get here to build the munitions up,” Green said. “Those guys showed up and they were fired up and started building bombs.”
During the condensed preparation phase, it was not uncommon to see and Airman working a 15-hour day according to leadership, but it was worth it in the end.
“It was very cool and rewarding to see our teams come together and accomplish the things that we did,” said Green.