Barksdale Airmen take care of B-52 business 7,000 miles away

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Don Perrien
  • 36th Operations Group Public Affairs
The ground shakes and the flightline shudders as the eight engines of a B-52 Stratofortress beat gravity into submission lifting the giant bomber into the air. Each of the bomber's engines can produce more than 17,000 pounds of thrust along with a deafening roar, but for the Airmen assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the sound of 488,000 pounds of metal taking to the sky is the sound of mission success.

"Operating our Barksdale-based B-52s from here at Andersen Air Force Base has been challenging," said Maj. George Johnson Jr., the 36th EAMXS commander. "Our reach back supply system is 7,000 miles away from here, so we have to rely on the equipment, tools and knowledge we brought with us."

"Challenging" is a word often used to describe this deployed bomber mission at Guam. Movement of Air Force bombers into the western Pacific has been occurring for almost three years as the Pacific Command adjusts its force posture to maintain a prudent deterrent capability. However, the approximately 200 maintenance people deployed from Barksdale AFB have successfully taken the challenge -- supporting an aircraft older than almost every Airman who works on it.

"The age of the B-52 airframe itself often makes our mission challenging," said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Gonzales, the 36th EAMXS superintendent. "The planes we have here are 46 and 47 years old. Imagine having a car that old and driving it back and forth to work every day. Then imagine some days you have to drive several thousand miles to work. The maintenance requirements to keep our planes flying require a lot of extra effort from everyone in the squadron."

"It would be impossible to meet even one of our mission requirements without the hard work of our Airmen," Major Johnson said. "They have exceeded my expectations. I expected our EAMXS to come together and make it look easy, and that's what they've done."

In just over two months, the deployed B-52 maintainers have provided combat-ready aircraft for more than 110 mission sorties. The unit was preparing to celebrate the launch of its 100th sortie during their TDY, when the Typhoon Kong-Rey evacuation order for Andersen AFB forced a change in plans.

"Our people stepped up to get the planes out of here before the typhoon," Major Johnson said. "We launched all six aircraft in a very short time frame. Our Airmen put in a lot of long hours to make sure the B-52s could get back to the U.S., safely out of reach of the storm."

While the typhoon passed safely to the east of Guam, the weather conditions at Andersen have tested the mettle of the flightline maintainers.

"I'm extremely proud of our people here," Sergeant Gonzales said. "They've had to work in high heat and high humidity and sometimes with rain coming in sideways. But no matter the conditions, they've found a way to make the mission happen."

A large reason for the team's success was the preparation at Barksdale AFB prior to their deployment, the superintendent said.

"We brought our 'A-Team' with us, our top performers," Sergeant Gonzales said. "We planned out our training six months in advance to be ready for this deployment.

"What we've been able to accomplish out here has validated the training performed back at Barksdale," he said. "There was a very limited amount of tools, parts and equipment we could bring out here with us, and our training has helped us make the most of those limited resources."

The result of the squadron's hard work has been an impressive 84.2 percent mission capable rate, higher than the 76 percent mission standard expected back at the unit's home station. In addition, the EAMXS has maintained a perfect 100 percent quality assurance pass rate for its inspected tasks along with a 100 percent maintenance scheduling effectiveness rate.

As impressive as those numbers are, the EAMXS commander says it is simply a reflection of the Airmen who turn the wrenches and follow the technical orders needed to keep the bombers mission ready.

"It's tough to be 7,000 miles away from home," Major Johnson said. "It's a stress on our supply system, and our families. But, the people here have been able to focus on the mission at hand.

"What our Airmen are doing out here in the Pacific theater is vitally important to our nation's security, and the security of the region," the commander said. "I can't think of a better group of Airmen representing the Air Force than those maintaining our B-52s as part of the 36th EAMXS here at Andersen."