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March Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Metzler, 169th Maintenance Group commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, Feb. 9, 2015.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/RELEASED)

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Metzler, 169th Maintenance Group commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, Feb. 9, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/RELEASED)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- Momentum is a powerful thing. Coaches of sporting teams will tell you that a swing in momentum at a critical point in the game can - and often does - change the outcome of the game entirely. In the workplace, momentum can also be described as "that's how I was taught to do it." In maintaining aircraft, you can find a lot of both of these kinds of momentum. There is a large team of players, working in a coordinated effort toward achieving a common goal. That goal is to provide our pilots with a safe and properly prepared and configured F-16 for the intended mission; for that jet to perform exactly as the pilot commands it and for that jet to return safely to its assigned parking spot so that it can be prepared and flown again. It takes a considerable amount of teamwork, planning, coordination, cooperation, training, individual and collective effort to reach that desired goal. The physical procedures and processes we use to maintain our jets are based in Technical Orders and other written guidance that spells out, often in great detail, exactly how to accomplish a given task. Aircraft are complex and dangerous things, and so require a high degree of precision to produce, maintain and operate. A bit of positive momentum can make the collective effort seem easy.

Maintainers use momentum to aid their efforts. Experience and familiarity with the task at hand are force multipliers, but following the applicable technical data will aid the experienced maintainer in making that jet ready to fly in minimum time. A fresh graduate from Air Force Technical School will obviously take longer to accomplish that same task, but as he or she gains experience that task will take less and less time. And so momentum grows as the whole workforce steadily gains experience by working together. We learn from each other much more than what we learned in technical school, and use the technical data to guide us through the many tasks and procedures needed to make that F-16 safely fly again and again. 

The second kind of momentum - the "that's how I was taught to do it" kind - can be hard to overcome if you were not taught properly. I don't read the owner's manual every time I drive my car, and I have never read the manual for my smart phone, yet I operate both daily and I think I do a pretty good job doing so.  In aircraft maintenance, we read the technical data every time we check tire pressure, change a light bulb or troubleshoot and repair a jet in any way. That dogged and constant referring to technical data may seem to be overkill on the surface for an experienced maintainer, but in fact it is the time-tested best method to do what we do. Our technical data is all electronic now, and the procedures and methods recorded there can change overnight, so checking that "owner's manual" at every step insures we're doing the job correctly and safely. Keeping our heads constantly in the books keeps those bad habits and shortcuts at bay - and that directly results in safe flying and a long service life for the F-16s entrusted to us. Learning from those more experienced than you can quickly increase your efficiency, but being taught and learning to do the job the right way is vastly more important than learning to do it quickly. For an aircraft maintainer, the right kind of momentum is built on experience, teamwork and reliance on technical data.

And speaking of momentum, we're enjoying a relatively extended quiet time at home lately.  We're between deployments and inspections - at least in the Maintenance Group - and have some relief from a pretty aggressive schedule over the last few years. Here is a short list of recent events:  an Aerospace Expeditionary Force deployment to Afghanistan and a two-week temporary duty to Key West in 2012, a TDY to New Orleans and a year's worth of practice leading up to the September 2013 Certified Readiness Exercise, followed quickly by TDYs to Nellis and Point Mugu, with another overseas deployment in early 2014, a trip to fly with the Colombian Air Force (as we continue to develop our State Partnership there), back to Key West, trips to Fallon and Nellis (again!) and now we are planning yet another overseas deployment. We've been on the go pretty steadily for quite a while, and to have a string of "normal" Unit Training Assembly weekends at McEntire with all of the jets and all of our people here is a pleasant change in momentum.