By Cara Loken, 2016 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year
Editor’s Note: This is a three-part series featuring Cara Loken shadowing the Nebraska National Guard. She pursued the assignment to give families an up-close perspective of what Guardsmen experience during drill weekends.
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA – Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be in your service member’s boots for a day? To be able to change places with your spouse, child, friend, or significant other over drill weekend in the National Guard? I have long been curious about what my husband actually did when he put on his uniform.
I am on the base frequently, often busy with family readiness and Yellow Ribbon programs. However, I don’t get to spend much time with our military members. That is, until recently. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shadow the Air National Guard during a weekend unit training assembly, or drill weekend. The experience included interactions with Aircraft Maintenance, Civil Engineering, Security Forces, and Operations. The amount of training and requirements they accomplish in the two-day period is incredible. It is also very obvious that everyone loves what they do and they do it with great pride.
Surprisingly, many people don’t realize the National Guard has the same criteria as the active component, even though the typical Guardsman or airman is in military status for only two or three days a month. They have to maintain standards for physical fitness, technical skills, medical, and many other requirements. And, there are deployments, annual training, stateside and overseas training missions, as well as the state requirements – supporting local law enforcement and civil authorities to be ready for natural disasters or civil unrest. All this for a force that is traditionally comprised of “part-time” service members with civilian jobs to maintain as well. It is not easy, and too often their service and sacrifice is undervalued.
National Guard deployments to support missions around the globe can vary in lengths of two-to-four week durations up to 365-day rotations with the active components, and just about every other length in between. Plus, the Army National Guard has a more consistent deployment schedule with longer periods deployed and longer periods between deployments. The Air National Guard, however, has constant deployment cycles with smaller numbers of airmen deployed for shorter, more frequent durations. These are just some of the facts I learned from my shadowing experience with the Nebraska Air National Guard.
DAY 1: MAINTENANCE AND CIVIL ENGINEERING
I hit the ground running on my first day. Initially, I visited the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron on the flight line, and by the afternoon the Civil Engineering Squadron. The airmen that work on the flight line are responsible for taking care of the KC-135 aircraft on a day-to-day basis. These professionals, also known as crew chiefs, make sure the jets are safe and ready to fly by performing pre-flight inspections before the day’s missions, and also perform maintenance actions as needed. Additionally, they are responsible to launch, recover, and service the aircraft with jet fuel, hydraulic fluid, engine oil, and breathing oxygen.
I arrived in the “line shack,” or the place the crew chiefs gather for work at 0730. (That’s 7:30 a.m. for my fellow civilians!) I got right to work climbing into the plane via the ladder, or crew entry chute under the nose, and let me tell you, climbing the ladder more than three times is a workout! I was able to help install cargo rollers – used for cargo bins to help them move more easily and to be tied down during flight, and put them in their spots. By the time I had one completely in place, TSgt Mike Barbur had all of the rest in place and fastened down safely. He was obviously much better at it than me.
Afterward, I was lucky to be able to launch a plane on a refueling mission. What does a launch involve? The flight crew arrives at the jet to go over several checklists with the crew chiefs to make sure the jet is ready to fly. This all happens through headsets while the maintenance crews are outside the jet watching the flight controls and other items. The pilots also will do their own checklist in the plane. There are many items to check as this process can take up to an hour to complete. Once complete, the flight crew starts the engines, perform some more checks, and we directed them out of the parking spot onto the taxi way to watch them take off. It was really a sight to see, and just as awesome to be a part of. I will share more with later in the series about the flight crew checklist and what our pilots do from start to finish. The flight line was really cool, but also hard work. It opened my eyes to what our aircraft maintainers have to do to get a jet off the ground. Oh, and the plane I got to launch was built in 1959! It is really a testament to maintenance that those jets are still flying. They really do a great job.
Civil Engineering (or CE) was next up that afternoon. Senior MSgt Sarah Bredthauer was waiting for me to arrive. We started by walking around the base to check places that were fixed or have been recently repaired. She made sure that everything was in order and still running properly. CE is responsible for all the building maintenance and upkeep on the base, as well as the streets, lighting, air conditioners, heaters, and so much more. She guided me back to the main hangar and we climbed the stairs, opened a door, and I was on the roof. Here, she showed me the huge air conditioning units where she checked to make sure they were running and in working order. (I am deathly afraid of heights, so being on the roof was a big step for me.) The job of CE is to be proactive to keep everything working. It’s like changing the oil in your car, replacing the air filter, and spark plugs. By making sure that everything is working like it’s supposed to and is being serviced the right way, the less likely it is to break down. Furthermore, they construct things like buildings, runways, and roads, skills needed during deployments. This turned out to be a long day, as I left the base after 5:30 p.m. SMSgt Bredthauer was still walking around waiting for repairmen to show up to make sure things are getting fixed before the end of the day. They stay until the job is done.
Stay tuned for day 2 when Cara gets to see what Operations is all about. Have questions about her experience? Post them here.
Special thank you to: Major John Loken, SMSgt Shannon Nielsen, SMSgt Joe Woodshank, SMSgt Sarah Bredthauer, MSgt Steve Fisher, TSgt Adam Clements, TSgt Mike Barbur, MSgt Mike Kucera, Captain Dave Strom, Lt Colonel Katy Millwood, SMSgt Bejvancesky, TSgt Luciana Jarzynka, TSgt Dave Job, Captain Troy Martin, Major Evan Reck, Captain Tyler Sandberg, and MSgt Mat Ellison for taking time out of your busy day to show me around.