MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
During an early afternoon, a soft warm breeze skirted across a flightline empty of the roar of F-16 Fighting Falcons preparing for another flight. In its place, tools clanking against metal echoed in the depths of a hangar. A crew chief worked diligently solving the most recent maintenance challenge placed in his path.
Dedicated crew chiefs are assigned to a single jet and perform a vital role here in the protection of the U.S. and its allies by maintaining the sole fleet of F-16s in Pacific Air Forces tasked with the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses mission. In this capacity, Misawa F-16s are the first to enter a combat theater to locate all surface-to-air missile threats and clear a path for other military forces.
This particular 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, Staff Sgt. Beau Blackburn, developed a love for maintenance as a teenager growing up in Iona, Idaho. From working on his car before enlisting in the military to now maintaining multimillion dollar aircraft, his skills transferred easily to his Air Force career.
“I just wanted to get my hands dirty,” reflected Blackburn. “I enjoyed working on cars before joining the military, so I figured I would see what working on airplanes was all about. I like the idea of discovering something is broken and then doing what I have to in order to fix it.”
The seven-year veteran has the responsibility of ensuring the aircraft he is dedicated to is in the best shape at all times. He performs daily pre and post-flight checks, fluid and intake inspections, and aircraft marshaling.
“Crew chiefs are the core maintainers who ensure the jets fly,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Walker, 35th Maintenance Squadron phase inspection team member. “We ensure every component and system is 100 percent and that the aircraft is airworthy and capable of completing the flying mission with the support of specialists and weapons crews.”
The duty of a crew chief calls to individuals who embrace a problem-solving mindset and commit to the continual work required of them.
“I love launching and recovering aircraft, and turning wrenches,” Blackburn said. “I leave work feeling like I earned my paycheck.”
Blackburn translates this mindset to his work every day with the goal of providing a safe environment for pilots and his fellow crew chiefs.
“I take pride in knowing that I’ve done everything I can to ensure that pilot’s safety,” said Blackburn.
Hard work is one thing Blackburn prides himself on and instills in his Airmen. Not only does he highlight a strong work ethic as an important human quality, but he also strives to create a positive atmosphere.
“Having a good attitude is enough to raise someone’s morale,” he said. “Although, a bad attitude is just as contagious; it will go from person-to-person and wear on them. If you talk about how much you hate the job, young Airmen aren’t going to know anything other than that mindset. They look up to you, so I aim to approach situations with a positive mindset.”
Blackburn, as well as any maintenance Airman, knows that shifts lasting up to 15 hours wear on a person, but he understands how working together with his fellow maintainers helps ease the stress of the job.
“This career is tiring, but there are times we have to throttle forward and keep going,” he said. “It makes the job and life easier if everyone can come together.”
Although Blackburn’s fellow Airmen help create a positive work environment, he says his family is the greatest motivation to do his best every day. He has a wife and two daughters, ages three and four, who have supported him throughout his military career.
Not only does his wife support him despite long hours and an inconsistent schedule, but his children often show him how much his service means to them.
“Anytime an aircraft takes off, my daughters say that daddy’s jets are flying,” he said as a smile snuck across his face. “My oldest daughter knows I fix aircraft, so the other day she said, ‘I really hope lots of jets break today so you can have fun at work!’ I thanked her, but said I sure hoped lots of jets didn’t break.”
As military members, Blackburn and others have to balance many different aspects of life.
“It’s difficult because the Air Force wants you to go to work, pass a physical fitness test, study for the next rank, complete professional military education, and go to college,” Blackburn explained. “At times, there are some things you have to sacrifice. For me, work and family are the two things I can’t sacrifice.”
Prioritizing the different roles and responsibilities required of an Airman is something Blackburn has had to do since enlisting in the military.
“We may have a lot on our plates, but the safety of our pilots and ultimately our nation depends on each of us to come together and get the job done,” Blackburn added.