By Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey, 168th Wing
/ Published July 28, 2021
Working in -30 F temperatures, aircrews from the 22nd Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, and the 151st Air Refueling Wing, Wright Air National Guard Base, Utah, train in the same arctic conditions in Interior Alaska that aircrews from the 168th Wing, Eielson AFB, Alaska, routinely work in, January 29, 2020. The visiting Airmen are learning what it takes to keep the KC-135R Stratotanker in a 'ready state' in sub-zero temperatures.
The 168th Maintenance Group won the Maintenance Effectiveness Award for 2020 in the Small Aircraft Maintenance Unit Category, recognizing it as one of the Air Force’s top maintenance units.
“I am beyond humbled to be working with the men and women of the 168th Maintenance Group,” said Col. Jennifer Casillo, 168th MXG Commander. “This group of maintainers has incredible pride in their work, these aircraft, and the Wing’s mission. All the accomplishments that won this award are a byproduct of that pride. Honestly, I spend most of my time just trying to stay out of their way.”
The Maintenance Effectiveness Award is presented annually to the unit that has most successfully managed maintenance resources to provide safe and serviceable equipment for sustained use in peacetime and wartime.
“Maintainers comprise a proud group, and rightfully so,” said Capt. Mark Dellaquila, Maintenance Operations Officer. “It takes a special breed of person to show up day after day after getting doused in hydraulic oil, a wind-burnt face, hands frozen to a tow bar, or permeated with a jet fuel smell that just doesn’t come out of your hair. But the 168th Maintenance is full of people like that. People who show up and make this Wing’s refueling mission happen day in and day out.”
The Airmen of the 168th Maintenance Group deliver maintenance in subzero temperatures as the premiere arctic refueling unit executing the arctic strategy annually. During the award period, these Arctic Airmen flexed their maintenance talent for a 45 day period where the temperatures were -30 F and colder. The skilled Airmen keep the 168th fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers mission capable of meeting training needs in support of F-16, F-22, C-130, C-17, E-3, and other Red Flag Alaska aircraft. While providing support in the Arctic region, the MXG supports operational demands across the globe to include NATO mission readiness.
Dellaquila said the package submitted was 11 total pages, four of which were filled with bullets- 196 of them — Those bullets captured some amazing actions performed by our amazing Airmen.
“But we couldn’t perform at this level without the skills and support of each and every unit in this wing,” said Dellaquila.
“I’d like to call special attention to our closest partners across the street in LRS, Comm Flight, and CE. We rely heavily on each of these units to the point that someone from each of them can be found in our buildings every day, whether it be delivering parts, keeping our network operational, or making sure our buildings stay warm. I’d also like to thank Ops Group for keeping us in business.”
The Maintenance Effectiveness Award has four categories — small aircraft maintenance, medium-aircraft maintenance, missile/munitions maintenance, and Depot.
“To add to it, we’re working with an aging fleet of tankers,” explained Dellaquila. “Our oldest jet was produced in 1959, and our newest jet was manufactured in 1963.”
The Group provided 35,426 maintenance hours to their fleet and additional 1,582 man-hours directly supporting U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, The United States Transportation Command, and U.S. Northern Command. The resilient driven Airmen forged through 3,500 maintenance actions while keeping their Airmen, families, and community safe during COVID and ensuring aircraft remained on schedule. They accepted 111 maintenance repair requests from transient aircraft and conducted 1,582 maintenance man-hours repairing tankers from all over the globe. Most notably, an Arizona tanker landed at Eielson AFB with significant lightning strike damage to include structural and avionics damage. Their efforts returned the aircraft to fully mission capable status with disciplined speed and saved the Air Force $150 thousand.
The challenge was accepted to maintain a high operations tempo and keep mission focus when the global pandemic began. Innovation was incorporated, and the Airmen championed additive manufacturing capabilities and ideas, enhancing communication and safety throughout the Wing.
The maintenance team supported the F-35 unit stand-up, delivering PACAF 5th generation fighters to Eielson Air Force Base. The 168th Maintenance provides critical support in readiness for the U.S. and partner nations in the pacific and arctic region. Continuing to generate flight sorties and successfully fulfilling national, state, and four Combatant Commanders’ objectives.
Missions include providing a KC-135 aircraft ready to go at a moment’s notice 24/7, 365 days a year, in support of North American Aerospace Defense Command. The Maintenance Group ensures the tanker is rapidly deployable to provide aerial refueling to F-22 Raptors and E-3 AWACS scrambled from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage to intercept and monitor unknown aircraft and U.S. airspace. The Maintenance Airmen also ensures the 168th KC-135 aircraft are on target to support Theater Security Packages meeting missions worldwide.
Many hours of hard work are invested into the home station, visiting, and overseas aircraft to support multinational and Alaska-wide domestic operational readiness. The Airmen delivered tanker capability for Norwegian F-35s during Exercise Cold Response, ensured deployment capabilities during Arctic Eagle, and validated operational plans during Golden Raven. The Group supports flying operations safeguarding receiver certifications for day and night flying requirements executing real-world and training missions. The Airmen have also maintained UH-60 and HH-60 units during exercises.
The Air Refueling Maintenance completed cross-wing HH-60 inspections, ensuring combat readiness for local rescue unit and 50-hr rotor inspections were completed enabling 24/7/365 rescue alerts for Interior Alaska.
The 168th Maintenance unit repairs far beyond Alaska with a global reach to enhance off-station training and increase capabilities at forward operating locations. The maintenance allows for delivery of equipment and passengers to be transported throughout the Air Force enterprise in the lower forty-eight and overseas, fostering trusted connections.
“As our wing begins this TFI journey and what General Saxe has called a ‘generational change,’ you can bet that maintenance will be right in the middle of it,” said Dellaquila. “We’ve been operating in a total force environment for decades with the constant infusion of TDY maintenance personnel tasked to support alert posture increases.”
168th Maintenance Group operates in support of state, federal, and overseas operations. The Maintenance Airmen keep the fleet of KC-135s readily providing air refueling throughout the pacific and arctic regions, including U.S. and allied aircraft, our Alaska NORAD region partners.
Maintenance team members are also heavily involved in supporting their fellow Airmen and community. Airmen dedicated many hours to youth hockey and basketball teams. They led gun range safety courses and volunteered at local community outreach programs. They volunteered outside of the maintenance career field for state need to conduct COVID contact tracing directly flattening the curve. Airmen are involved in volunteering as dive team members to rescue and recover capsized boats to protect the marine environment. They also volunteer in Civil Air Patrol missions resulting in safely rescuing three Alaskans who were stranded. They serve the local Veteran and elderly population, continuing to give back to their community.