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Multi-Capable Airmen, the Future of the 126 ARW

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Aaron Rodriguez
  • 126 ARW

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The 126th Maintenance Group, assigned to the Illinois Air National Guard, earned their seventh top mission capability rating for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker fleet and now aims for greater heights by implementing the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment program.

According to Air Force doctrine, ACE is designed to deter aggression from an adversary and enable U.S. defense and a winning outcome in conflicts. Its success hinges, in part, on forging, sharpening, and maintaining a multi-capable Airman.

The concept is to take an experienced Airman in their own specialty and add another skill outside that specialty to their belt. The more expeditionary-specific skills Guard members master mean fewer are required to be in harm’s way to achieve mission success. 

The 126th Maintenance Group is taking this to heart. Starting with their crew chiefs, maintainers tasked with the mechanical upkeep of an aircraft, the group currently provides cross-training in other facets needed to keep the tankers in the sky. 

“The crew chief has always been the jack of all trades and master of none,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cody Carlson, flight line flight chief and flying crew chief program manager. “The specialist shops are training our guys, so these crew chiefs, who have a broad knowledge of everything, will now be experts in everything.”

Tech. Sgt. Tyler Groat, a crew chief, says the concept saves time when it’s really needed. A crew chief can trouble shoot a malfunction and then correct the issue, or assist the technicians with the repair when they arrive.

This quicker fix improves the mission capability rating for the 126th fleet.

The group leadership estimates training in avionics, electrical, hydraulic, and fuel systems to take three to four months for each full-time member. At that time, a crew chief’s capabilities will showcase what it means to be a multi-capable Airman.

“We’ll have our crew chiefs right there on the spot, and they will be able to work any discrepancy and keep our non-capable time at a complete minimum without having to call other shops,” said 1st Lt. Jason Bloomfield, director of operations.

Like the maintenance group, other leadership around the 126th Air Refueling Wing explore ways to foster environments in which the Guardsmen can discover and master new skill sets, thus creating a force sustained by multi-capable Airmen. 

The 126th Civil Engineer Squadron’s commander, Maj. Matt Boice, gives an example of their expanded training.

“With our new Rapid Airfield Damage Repair process, it’s all hands on deck!” said Boice. “Airmen from all specialties, including HVAC, water and fuels systems, and even operations and power production, contribute to the process. This was evident during our last deployment for training when we had HVAC personnel up on a roof assisting the structures craftsmen with roof construction, and vice versa, through our two-week training event.”

Meanwhile, the maintenance group will keep their tradition of pursuing excellence in the Air Force refueling community.

“I am continually impressed by the hard work and dedication of the maintenance and support personnel in the 126th Maintenance Group. There is never a doubt in my mind that we will lead the KC-135 fleet in mission capable aircraft every year.” said Lt. Col. Timothy Huchel, the 126th Maintenance Group commander. “Looking forward, Agile Combat Employment and multi-capable Airmen are the key to being ready to fight anytime…anywhere.”