Have you ever wondered what happens on the other side of the fence? The “fence” I’m referring to is where those airplanes come from that fly overhead and create that sound of freedom.
I am not a maintainer by trade and honestly had no idea what they did on the other side of the fence until I became a first sergeant. I will say that the last six months have been a huge learning experience for me. I’ve gained a great appreciation for maintainers. Their shifts revolve around the flying schedule, which is a 24-hour operation. There are multiple career fields in the 388th Maintenance Group, but what I’d like to focus on is the 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
I referenced a Code 3 in the title. A Code 3 is when an aircraft comes back broken from a flight and requires a significant amount of man hours in order for the jet to make its next flight. It’s not uncommon for four jets to come back from their flight and some of them to be Code 3. This could lead some to think that 12-hour shifts are a necessity. Most of the time 12-hour shifts are not the norm. There are parts to order, depending on how the aircraft is broken, and the man hours to install the part and the test run after it’s all done. Code 3s are not fun, but they do happen and maintainers must adjust accordingly.
Did you know that maintainers often go through multiple uniforms? You may ask why and also ask, “What the heck is JP8?” Simply put, JP8 is the aircraft fuel; “Jet Propellant 8.” It has a very distinct odor and fuel and hydraulic fluid often spill on maintainers during their shifts. Due to those instances, that is the reason for multiple uniforms. I’ve heard it is also referenced as “maintainer cologne or perfume.” It is not intentional that they smell like fuel or hydraulic fluid, but it is part of their job. Regardless of that cologne or perfume, they are a prideful group of Airmen, and you will realize that if you spend just a few moments with them.
I have also learned there is a flurry of activity and work that maintainers need to do. Before I was able to really get to know the workings of this unit, I seriously thought they only launched aircraft and had no idea the work involved with our jets. The multiple Air Force Specialty Codes work together like a well-oiled machine to troubleshoot, repair, inspect and service each aircraft after its mission and prepare it for its next flight, along with many other tasks.
You could have an 18-year-old Airman responsible for repairing and taking care of a multimillion dollar aircraft, where in the commercial workforce that probably wouldn’t happen.
For these men and women, this is the norm and they perform extremely well at it. This ballet of maintenance, man hours, code 3’s and inspections can take its toll on a maintainer, but the camaraderie that I have witnessed is like no other. These maintainers on the other side of the fence share a bond that is not found in all places.
Their dedication and hard work is what the Air Force core values are all about; Integrity first, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do!