Young F-35A maintainers benefitting from Red Flag experience

  • Published
  • By Micah Garbarino
  • 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada – Tech school and tech orders and on the job training are foundational pieces of any young maintainer’s development, but putting all that knowledge and skill to the test under the pressure of a deployment helps solidify that foundation.
Maintainers from the 421st Fighter Generation Squadron and the 419th FW's 466th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron are currently deployed to Red Flag, the Air Force’s premier combat exercise. They are generating multiple F-35A sorties twice a day to support the exercise’s large, complex scenarios. For the youngest of them, Red Flag is a very valuable experience.
“This exercise stresses the importance for them to maintain and launch jets in support of a real combat tasking,” said Master Sgt. Sean Helm. “When you’re at home station and a training sortie doesn’t happen we never want that, but it’s different than at Red Flag when we are a critical part of an integrated mission with other aircraft. Those sorties have to happen. When you’re deployed, people are counting on you.”
In that way, for newer maintainers like Senior Airman Erik Simmons, an avionics technician, Red Flag has been both a learning opportunity and a morale builder.
“I’ve never been deployed before and the only other TDY I’ve done was supporting a flyover. This is different,” Simmons said. “There’s a camaraderie here that is really cool. People who don’t normally work together are working side-by-side and we’re all gelling. We’re all solely focused on getting the mission done.”
Simmons is still “learning the jet” and Red Flag has given him, and other Airmen, an opportunity to perform tasks that they don’t normally do – expanding their capabilities in core areas of maintenance, creating multi-capable Airmen.
“I’m an avionics troop, but while we’re here, if they need us somewhere, they’re going to put us there, and if we don’t know, we ask questions and learn,” Simmons said. “I’ve been able to crew chief and launch a jet, and I worked with other maintainers to change out a brake control unit, which I’ve never done before. It’s knowledge that is only going to help me in the future.”
Simmons, from Newport News, Virginia, joined the Air Force by following in the footsteps of his parents, Air Force veterans.
“I graduated from community college and started working jobs that I wasn’t really happy with, but I knew the Air Force had been really good to my parents, put them in really good situations,” Simmons said. “I really like working on the F-35. It’s the latest and the greatest. I know our pilots can’t tell us everything about its real capabilities, but they are showing them.”
Being in a deployed environment, even a simulated one like Red Flag, also puts the maintainers closer to the mission that they support every day.
“While we’re here, they all get more interaction with the pilots and get to see and hear about the combat mission of the F-35,” Helm said. “They get a bigger picture of where we fit in and how they are a key part of that.”