Every Airman ‘in the fight’ as 388th maintainers build warrior mindset

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

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Maintainers in the 388th Fighter Wing are cultivating a mindset that will make the F-35A Lightning II even more lethal and survivable in a “high-end” fight – embracing agile combat employment concepts that make every Airmen a warfighter.

Since the United States National Defense Strategy shifted to counter the emerging threats from Russia and China, more has been demanded from an Air Force that has recently operated predominantly from large, fixed bases against insurgent forces in the Middle East.

“For many of our maintainers, training for dispersed combat operations is a significant shift in culture from the recent past on what it means to be an Airmen. For two decades we’ve been deploying to large bases full of support and, for the most part, you’re not worried about organized enemy forces coming in or tactical ballistic missile strikes,” said Col. Jeremy Anderson, 388th Maintenance Group commander. “There is no safe sanctuary anymore. That’s what has driven this strategy. We’ve got to be able to move quickly and complicate the enemy’s targeting.”

To do that, commanders need maintenance Airmen that are adaptable and resilient – trained to generate combat sorties under fire and on the go, protecting themselves, making tactical decisions in remote locations where their closest support may be hundreds of miles across the ocean.

“We’re loading them on the back of a C-130 or C-17. Here’s your tents. Here’s your MREs. We’ll be back for you in 72 hours. If any F-35s drop in, gas them, load them and get them out of there. It’s all about getting the pilot and the aircraft off the ground and back in the fight as quickly as possible,” Anderson said. “This isn’t just about launching sorties. This is about limiting attrition and being survivable as a force. You must be ready to defend yourself, to survive until that airlift comes back to get you out of there, because now the enemy knows where you’re at and you’ve got to load up and go to the next spot.”

No longer “in the rear with the gear,” there were some Airmen who had initial concerns about their new, exposed combat roles. But, after the wing’s most recent ACE exercises, the Airmen were excited, said Maj. Cahn Wadhams, 4th Fighter generations Squadron commander. When he asked for volunteers to train to become part of another MCA team, he said every hand in the room went up.

“The more we’ve done it and explained it, the more Airmen are buying into it. This isn’t an effort to increase their workload (because we’re shorthanded) as much as it’s a shared workload,” said Chief Master Sgt. G Foster, 388th Maintenance Group chief enlisted manager. “The more efficient we can be, the more survivable we can all be, because we’re spending less time on the ground.”

The 388th Maintenance Group continues to communicate the operational importance of ACE and MCA with current maintainers, as well as building training plans for both existing and new Airmen to solidify a “warrior’s mindset.”

“This is a culture. If a civilian comes into basic training and gets trained in an MCA mindset as part of their foundation as a new Airman, we’re teaching them when you go to your in-garrison base you’re not just a finance Airman, or a fuels Airman, you’re there to support the combat mission as best you can,” said Wadhams.  “We know have to continue to instill those ethics and values in them as best we can to build this warrior culture as maintainers.”