A Successful Launch: Perspectives from a Maintenance Officer

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jake Elsass
  • 577th Aeronautical Systems Group
Prior to deploying to Afghanistan, I spent four years as a B-1 maintenance officer. Often a maintenance officer defines success as launching a sortie to accomplish a particular mission.

The life of a crew chief is not a glorious one. A crew chief works tirelessly to maintain his aircraft. The crew chief ensures his aircraft is refueled and serviced and all applicable maintenance actions are complete prior to the arrival of the pilot and crew. The crew chief knows his jet inside and out and takes pride in ensuring his aircraft is ready to perform the next mission. For a crew chief, the best moment of the day is when he gets to marshal out or "launch" his aircraft.

On my first deployment to Southwest Asia, I frequently watched from the background as a crew chief worked an entire 12-hour shift to prepare his aircraft for its mission. Then as the last act of the day, the crew chief launched his aircraft that was loaded with 500-lb and 2000-lb precision-guided munitions headed to Afghanistan.

Recently, I observed a similar scene take place. Only instead of being a US crew chief preparing and launching his aircraft, the crew chief was an Afghan crew chief (under the tutelage of his advisor) who serviced, then launched his jet. The aircraft was not a bomber, but rather a C-27, fixed wing cargo aircraft. This scene has only played out a few times in recent Afghan history. However, this scene will play out countless more times in the future as the Afghans assume more responsibility for their defense and security.

On my first deployment, I felt a sense of pride as I watched the crew chief launch a fully loaded B-1 headed to Afghanistan on a mission to respond to the events of September 11, 2001 over Afghanistan, the home of the Taliban, al Qaeda and generally the country that attacked the United States. On this deployment, I have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of Afghanistan and experience the culture first-hand. I now realize that the many people in this country are part of a very diverse culture. Most Afghans truly want the coalition's assistance and are thankful we are here. The people who attacked the United States and who want to destroy the American way of life are in the minority.

As I watched the Afghan crew chief launch his aircraft, I felt the same sense of pride that I felt every time one of my maintainers was able to launch his jet. The C-27 the crew chief launched was no doubt performing a mission that will help rebuild a war-torn Afghanistan. The scene reminded me that we are accomplishing our mission, not by targeting Afghanistan, but rather by training the Afghans to become self-sufficient.

It was a successful launch, indeed.