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Deployed F-15 unit keeps Alaskan, Canadian skies safe
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON -- Staff Sgt. Ryan Dundas, 44th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit, inspects the cockpit instruments of an F-15C Eagle during a post-flight inspection. Airmen, aircraft, and equipment from Kadena Air Base, Japan, are deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson supporting the Alaskan NORAD Region, part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command mission providing aerospace warning and control for North America. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Mikal Canfield)
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Deployed F-15 unit keeps Alaskan, Canadian skies safe

Posted 10/31/2012   Updated 10/31/2012 Email story   Print story


by Master Sgt. Mikal Canfield
Alaskan NORAD Region Public Affairs

10/31/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Every service member knows being ready at a moment's notice is part of the job. However, not every service member mans a combat alert cell, ready for the call requiring them to launch a fighter aircraft in minutes. For Airmen of the 44th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, that's all part of 24/7 duty executing the alert mission.

The unit of Airmen, F-15C Eagle aircraft and equipment from Kadena Air Base, Japan, are deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson supporting the Alaskan NORAD Region, part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command mission providing aerospace warning and control for North America.

"The 44th EFS is responsible for protecting the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone and intercepting any aircraft attempting to enter U.S. or Canada airspace," said Capt. Joshua Gunderson, 44th EFS electronic combat officer. "We are also responsible for intercepting any aircraft that originate within the U.S. not following their flight plan and/or showing signs of suspicious activity."

The ANR mission, now in its 54th year of operation, requires the aircraft, pilots and maintenance personnel to be ready whenever the call comes indicating a potential threat. It's a responsibility the Airmen take seriously and train and prepare for every day.

"After periods of inactivity, both equipment and personnel must be ready to instantly perform at their best when the phone call comes," said Gunderson. "All members of the 44th team, both maintainers and pilots, stay focused on the task at hand and realize the unacceptable consequences of failure."

This responsibility to have the aircraft ready to go also has a major impact on the way maintenance is conducted, a mission that comes with some unique challenges.

"The most challenging aspect is maintaining a readiness posture 24 hours a day, seven days a week with zero down time," said Master Sgt. Matthew Veit, 44th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit production superintendent. "Most of our maintainers are used to the concept of available spares. In a simplified definition that means that if an aircraft breaks, it is replaced with another aircraft that is fully mission-capable and we have time to fix the broken aircraft."

Without the same resources at JBER, conducting repairs and other routine maintenance has an added sense of urgency, Veit added. This also results in maintenance personnel getting valuable experience in other areas.

"Some examples include having an engine mechanic assist with radar troubleshooting, or an electrician assisting with the installation of an external fuel tank," Veit said. "The teamwork this mission fosters develops a very strong esprit de corps with a high sense of pride for each maintenance task completed."

The aircrew flying these missions have also taken advantage of some of the unique opportunities to train while deployed to Alaska. Specifically, taking advantage of Alaska's vast training ranges.

"The training ranges in Alaska provide us the opportunity to conduct low-altitude training in a mountainous region, which we cannot do while in Okinawa," Gunderson said. "From both the flying and maintenance perspectives, flying over the Alaska range and operating in harsh winter climates will allow for increased flexibility and knowledge for future operations."

A lot of this training is conducted alongside F-22 Raptor aircrews assigned to the 3rd Wing at JBER.

"We've been able to do some integration sorties with the F-22s and gained a better understanding of each other's capabilities," Gunderson added. "This is beneficial because both platforms play a vital role in maintaining the air dominance mission."

Even though the training opportunities are great, the aircrew and maintenance personnel all have a solid grasp on the real reason they're here.

"When the horn goes off at two in the morning, each Airman has a critical job to do and must be counted on, from the youngest maintainer to the most experienced pilot," said Veit. "The sense that this is real and there is no room for error causes a real change to occur in each Airman. You can see it on their faces and there's nothing like the feeling of a real-world scramble."

With each successful mission comes an increased sense of pride, especially toward younger Airmen who are able to get experience unlike many of their peers.

"It's especially rewarding when an 18-year-old Airman who's on his or her first deployment performs a flawless alert launch. They get a real sense of pride when they see their jet light two burners and blast down the runway," Veit added.

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