NEWINGTON, N.H. – Keeping an aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers flying is a passion for Tech Sgt. Mark McCassin, an assistant crew chief with the 157th Air Refueling Wing Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, New Hampshire Air National Guard. He is assigned to what is thought to be the oldest KC-135 aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory.
The opportunity to travel was what initially attracted him to the position of crew chief.
At 31, McCassin has deployed seven times with the New Hampshire Air National Guard, with missions to Qatar, Guam and Moron, Spain. Recently, he returned home from Qatar, where he spent four months working as an aircraft expediter, managing repairs on groups of aircraft.
"You get to travel the world while doing your job," McCassin said. "Sometimes, it can be a smooth trip, where everything seems to go right, and sometimes you may end up hard broke [grounded for repairs]. That's where your experience and knowledge come into play."
Shortly after graduating from Goffstown High School in 2005, McCassin left for basic military training. Since then, he's been a full-time Guard member with the 157th ARW.
"I wanted to join the Guard so I could stay close to home and family," said McCassin. "I had intended on being a straight weekender [traditional Guardsman] and going to school full-time, but all of that changed once I became a fully qualified crew chief. This job is gratifying, and I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself."
A crew chief's job includes generating aircraft, performing ground handling and servicing operations, and accomplishing day-to-day aircraft inspections.
"These daily preparations keep our jets in top shape," said McCassin. "When the aircrews show up to fly, we can tell them with full confidence that the jet is good-to-go and they are in safe hands."
McCassin aspires to reach the rank of Chief Master Sergeant with the Aircraft Maintenance Group, taking the opportunity to learn all he can from his senior non-commissioned officers. "I've had the privilege to work with some outstanding people here—people who have mentored me and helped me. Without them, I wouldn't be the NCO I am today."
Master Sgt. John Bober, a fellow crew chief who has worked alongside McCassin since the start of his career, praised the skills he brings to the team.
"I have traveled all over the world with Mark and have been impressed with his work ethic, always putting the aircraft and mission first," said Bober. "Mark is one of our go-to guys to get the job done, and done correctly. It's very assuring to the group when he is tasked with special projects."
Senior Master Sgt. Richard Booker, McCassin's supervisor, echoed similar sentiments, adding that he is a real problem solver who takes a lot of pride in the military, and in maintaining their assigned aircraft.
Military service has been a tradition for the McCassin family. His grandfather flew in B-17s during World War ll, and his father retired Master Sgt. John McCassin, worked for aircraft maintenance at Pease.
After his last deployment, McCassin is ready to spend quality time with his family. "Four months was the longest I've been away, so just being with them and spending time with them was the greatest thing I could ask for," he said. Now residing in Manchester with his wife, McCassin has extended family close by in Goffstown and South Berwick, Maine.
Like a true New Englander, he enjoys rooting for New England sports teams and spending time on the seacoast. "I'm a huge Pats fan," he said. "Sundays in the fall and winter are always filled with family and friends cheering them on. In the summer, we head out to the seacoast on weekends to go striper fishing."
The upcoming months for McCassin will have both its challenges and rewards. Pease is in the process of divesting its fleet of eight KC-135s by sending them to refueling units around the country. The older tankers will be replaced with the Boeing KC-46 later this year.
"It's a bittersweet moment," said McCassin. "We've had tankers here for years, and there's a ton of history at Pease with the 135s. These jets are starting to show their age and every day can be challenging. With the KC-46 coming, I'm excited to be a part of something new. A new mission and new weapons systems mean new experiences, which is exciting."