News>EAMXS maintain unique AF capabilities downrange
Staff Sgt. Mathew Wilkinson, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hydraulics craftsman, checks for bleed on the communications system on an EC-130H Compass Call aircraft at Bagram Airfield, Afghnistan, Aug. 11, 2011. Wilkinson and other Airmen from the 455 EAMXS help each other with the mission by learning how to perform jobs outside of their normal scope of operations. Wilkinson is stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Krista Rose)
Senior Airman Thomas Nguyen, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron communications navigation journeyman, performs maintenance on an EC-130H Compass Call aircraft Aug. 11, 2011. Nguyen, stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., fixed a broken radar scope, preparing it for the next mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Krista Rose)
Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Markham, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, reviews aircraft forms for accuracy Aug. 11, 2011. Every day, the455 EAMXS squadron quality checks forms for discrepancies. Markham is stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Krista Rose)
by Master Sgt. Mary Davis
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/26/2011 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- When an EC-130H Compass Call's complex and critical electronic equipment malfunctions, there is only one unit in the world that can fix it - and it's deployed here.
Members of the 41st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., are tasked with keeping the EC-130Hs' tactical command, control and communication countermeasures and noise jamming capabilities in working order to keep Bagram's mission "responsive and precise."
"We are the only unit in the Air Force with this particular mission," said Capt. Aaron Stumpf, EC-130H maintenance officer in charge. "Compass Call aircraft fly directly over the fight providing direct non-kinetic fires to the forces on the ground - Army, Marines, coalition and Special Operation Forces."
The unit has been deployed continuously since 2003 to maintain these unique aircraft in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Unlike conventional Air Expeditionary Force rotations that swap out every six months with sister units, a steady stream of maintainers come in and out of the area of responsibility from Davis-Monthan - each individual serving a four-month tour.
"We have deployed in support of OEF for more than seven years. We've deployed to support the fight," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Burton, who is responsible for maintaining the navigation-communication systems. "The squadron is large at Davis-Monthan, and we fulfill the OEF deployment tasking as well as many others around the world. It's challenging knowing you will have to deploy several times while you're part of this select unit."
Although the climate and terrain are similar to the desert environment in Arizona, the EC-130 aircraft still have to adjust to environmental conditions in Afghanistan, he said.
"Since these aircraft travel through so many environments to arrive in theater, they may breakdown initially until they become acclimated," said Burton, a Tucson, Ariz., native. "It is more humid and colder here at times. After a while, we know what to look for because we've gotten to know the aircraft so well."
When Burton and the other Davis-Monthan team members initially joined the squadron, they had the responsibility of learning how to maintain the EC-130H aircraft. Maintaining the EC-130 and its unique electronic systems is not what they were originally trained to do, said Senior Airman Sarah Wagstaff, an electronic warfare journeyman.
"I like that this is a different system than I learned in technical school," said Wagstaff from Alamogordo, N.M., who is deployed with her husband Staff Sgt. David Wagstaff, an airborne maintenance technician. "When I arrived at the squadron, I didn't know I would be working on an intricate electronic attack platform. I like that this job forces me to think to figure things out."
Wagstaff and other team members maintain the EC-130s' electronic mission systems containing the electronic attack targeting and engagement equipment. Although the system usually tells her when something is wrong, there are times when she and her crew have to troubleshoot problems with the equipment using logic and aircraft schematics, she said.
"There were times when it took our crew several days to fix problems, but it doesn't happen too often," said Wagstaff, who is on her second deployment in three years. "We are always learning about this system. This isn't like a traditional maintainer job using tools to fix things. We are taught on theory of operation and how signals flow through the system. It's rewarding when you fix a problem with the aircraft to make it work, knowing that it helps the aircrew deliver effects to the people on the ground who are getting the mission done."
While on his first deployment to Bagram Airfield, Stumpf leads the team of maintainers, ensuring Compass Call aircraft stay in the air.
"What we do is significantly different than a typical C-130 with a traditional cargo mission. The EC-130H is a non-kinetic attack aircraft," said Stumpf, who hails from St. Louis.
Many people hear about F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15E Strike Eagles in the fight, but the EC-130 Compass Call is rarely in the spotlight; it's a particular capability people don't know much about, the captain said.
"When I heard I would be in an EC-130 maintenance squadron, I found our role to be so much different than any other platform in the Air Force - not a typical maintenance job. We have our own niche."
While the Davis-Monthan team takes care of the mission, Stumpf ensures he takes care of his people, enabling them to become force multipliers.
"As a maintenance officer, I'm in a career field where you are leading a lot of people who contribute to the mission," he said. "I look to my NCOs to help keep our maintainers mission focused helping them understand how their efforts factor into the bigger picture. We are a large squadron back home but tight-knit community with a huge responsibility. We can feel proud that the daily maintenance we perform enables EC-130 aircrews to support troops on the ground. That's the bottom line."