Life Support: Award-winning SNCO backbone of depot flight safety

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WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — On Jan. 15, Senior Master Sgt. Dana Capaldi was notified she’d been selected as the Air Force’s top senior noncommissioned officer of the year in the Air Reserve Component Aircrew Flight Equipment annual awards. 

Every weapon system in Capaldi’s portfolio has its own set of requirements for safe flight operations. One of the actions lauded in the award package was her work with the emerging F-35 workload. The aircraft began undergoing modifications at Hill Air Force Base in Utah early last year. The 514th Flight Test Squadron has since turned out multiple aircraft thanks to her efforts. She was the first in the AFE career field to attend the F-35 training at Eglin AFB, Florida. 

Capaldi, shying away from the fact that this is her second time earning this recognition, admits it’s a prestigious award for a small career field. 

After serving more than 24 years in the Aircrew Flight Equipment career field — formally known as Life Support — she finds her current assignment as the 413th Flight Test Group Aircrew Flight superintendent the most rewarding of her career thus far.

“I love the challenges that come with supporting two major commands, five geographically separated units and 12 different weapons systems,” said Capaldi. 

Capaldi’s primary duty is ensuring the pilots who clear aircraft coming out of the Air Force depot are equipped with the life-saving equipment necessary for flight, and that it works properly in emergency situations.

“We’re meticulous with our work,” said Capaldi. “From parachutes to helmets and antigravity suits, if our equipment fails, our pilots’ lives will be endangered.” 

That meticulous work resulted in 465 aircraft safely returned to the warfighter last year.

When asked what she would tell an Airman new to the career field, she spoke without hesitation.

“Recognize the importance of the job and the critical role you play in Air Force readiness,” she said. “We have an incredible career field filled with tremendous talent and dedication. It’s important to remember that no airplane goes back to the fight without AFE.”