NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – A team of McConnell maintainers support Red Flag 18-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, during the year’s first iteration of the Air Force’s premiere international combat exercise Jan. 26 to Feb. 16.
The Red Flag Tanker Task Force Maintenance Team consists of 45 members from McConnell AFB, Fairchild AFB and Royal Air Force Mildenhall, with the McConnell crews taking the lead. The team is fully equipped to maintain four aircraft for the duration of the three-week exercise.
Senior enlisted leaders utilize this exercise to boost their new Airmen and officers’ understanding of deployed maintenance processes. Red Flag maintainers are currently serving under contingency, exercise and deployment orders, which mirror the processes required in an actual deployment.
“Red Flag gives you a bite-size piece of what a deployment actually is: limited people, limited equipment and limited resources,” said Master Sgt. Brian Flanders, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent.
While deployed, maintainers must rely on reduced resources while handling increased work hours and a higher operations tempo.
“Red Flag is about as realistic as you can get without actually deploying,” said Chief Master Sgt. Seth Thomas, 931st Maintenance Squadron superintendent.
Second Lt. Toby John Cruz, RFTTF Maintenance Team officer in-charge, is leading the Red Flag maintenance team and learning as he goes. Cruz works alongside senior enlisted leaders like Thomas and Flanders who, combined, have a lengthy history of dozens of deployments and multiple Red Flag assignments to support their young officer’s development and the RFTTF mission.
“My job is to show the lieutenant how to network and build relationships in an austere environment,” said Thomas. “There are things you can’t learn at home station.”
Together, the team is working hard to generate mission-ready aircraft to support Red Flag. So far, they’ve successfully launched 42 KC-135 Stratotankers during the exercise, a 100 percent success rate.