LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --
Less than one percent of the population joins the military every year. Some, join the military for school, travel or other benefits. For others, joining the ranks is something that has always been part of their life plan.
The latter is true for U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Robert Matthews, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron communication and navigation systems electronic counter measures journeyman.
Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, Matthews said he always knew the military would be a part of his life.
“I wanted to give back to my country, at least a little bit,” Matthews said. “It’s not a tradition in my family, but I’ve always felt a strong sense of pride in the military.”
Matthews works on the multiple aircraft systems including radios, navigation systems, and equipment.
“I make sure the aircraft can communicate with each other, navigate through the air while they’re flying, and that they have the equipment to defeat and stop attacks.” Matthews said.
Communication and navigation systems ECM journeymen follow technical orders that direct them on operating and maintaining systems, which includes diagnosing malfunctions as well as supervising and assisting in aircraft ground servicing and launch operations.
“The TO tells you how to do your job and it has notes and warnings in it,” Matthews explained. “All those notes and warnings are written in blood. Someone got hurt because they didn’t follow those instructions and it made it more important. I try to emphasize to everyone the importance of always reading it even if you know what you’re doing. You’re saving lives by following simple orders.”
Although working on the flight line every day can be strenuous, Matthews takes pride in accomplishing tasks the correct way.
“I’m not going to do a lackluster job on a plane and know my name is signed to that,” Matthews said. “It’s not a part of the way I was raised. I’d rather slow down and do it all correctly versus doing it half-way and calling it a day.”
This attention to detail is vital in a career field that is critical to getting the tactical airlift mission done.
“Maintenance is one of the key elements of mission success,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jarrod Ortiz, NCO in charge of communication and counter navigation. “There are tons of checks, servicing, and repairs made every day to keep the aircraft safe for flight and in general good working order. There’s a great sense of accomplishment knowing the work you do is contributing directly to the mission that aircraft is heading to accomplish.”
Earlier this year, Matthews was on deployment in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he described seeing the importance of his job first-hand, growing his appreciation.
“One time we were tasked with getting a plane ready to pick up some people hurt in combat,” Matthews said. “The mission got dropped quickly, but everyone went out and got it ready in five minutes. The plane came back and we saw the hurt individuals. Knowing they were back to a place where they could get help was a really proud moment.”
By operating and maintaining communication, navigation and mission systems, Matthews assisted in the mission’s success, giving aircraft the ability to effectively and rapidly transport personnel in need of aid.
Not only does Matthews proudly serve in a maintenance squadron, contributing to the 19th Airlift Wing’s mission, he also enjoys being a part of the maintenance family.
“My favorite part of my job is the people I work with,” Matthews said. “A lot of the time you meet people from different areas and you get to learn a lot about them like where they’re from that you, yourself — if you aren’t from that area — wouldn’t know.”
Ortiz said Matthews’ contributions to the squadron make their job seamless, and he shows up every day with a smile on his face and a great attitude.
“He tackles every challenge head-on with tenacity to get the job done,” Ortiz said. “Matthews is a delight to work with, and his attitude brings everyone in the shop closer together as a team. Even on the hardest days when we are swamped with work, the weather is bad, or the planes are not cooperating with us, he still has a great attitude and always cheers on the team.”