Leader Blues

Monday, July 27, 2009

TOP STORY >> Team Little Rock has true grit

IN SHORT: LRAFB crews excel at competition and are cheered by civilians.

By Jeffrey Smith
Leader staff writer

The air rodeo this week at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state is considered the Olympics for the best airlifters in the world.

Little Rock Air Force Base sent some 140 airmen and four planes from the 314th Airlift Wing and the 19th Airlift Wing for the week-long competition.

Every afternoon, airmen who competed in the rodeo got together around 5 p.m. to check the leader board to see where their airlift team was in the standings.

At each competition, either Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, or Col. Gregory Otey, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, were on the sidelines with command chiefs, airmen and civic leaders cheering the home team on.

The base teams competed in judged events against other airlift bases around the nation and the world. Competing airmen strive for perfect scores while avoiding errors that can cost a team points.

Events included aeromedical evacuations, loading and unloading cargo, takeoffs, landings, dropping cargo loads in a drop zone, and refueling and post-flight operations by maintenance crews.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim was an enthusiastic spectator at the air rodeo. “It has been exciting to see our military perform the same activities they do in the war zone,” Swaim said.

“It is important for citizens in the community to interact with military team members. It is critical that we are able to see the difficulties they deal with in war,” he added.

Phil Davis, honorary commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, said he was impressed with the thoroughness and realism of the missions during the competition.

“All the little details, the loss of points on time, everything has to be split-second like it is in combat. As a civilian, you see how the different units are interdependent on each other. It all affects the broader mission,” Davis said.

Larry Biernacki, CEO of Arkansas Federal Credit Union, also attended the air rodeo. He said, “The rodeo is an opportunity for the men and women of the Air Force to come together and truly show how great they are.

“It is an opportunity for me to develop relationships with the airmen. You get to meet the airmen and recognize that they are regular people behind the service uniform,” he explained.

The 314th Airlift Wing maintenance team, the backbone of airlifters, also competed — and won. Without these crews, the C-130s would be grounded.

Senior Airman Ronnie Backus, maintenance crew chief with the 314th Airlift Wing, said the maintenance crews work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only thing that stops the crew is lightning.

The crew is out at the plane three to four hours before take-off, he said.

Tech Sgt. Michael Goodwin was ready to show the world what the 314th Airlift Wing maintenance crew does.

“I hope we take home all the trophies. I feel we have the best maintenance crew,” Goodwin said. The crew came in first.
The maintenance crew competed in four events: preflight, basic postflight, refueling and basic post-operatives.

The maintenance crew in-cludes two engine maintainers. One focused on the hydraulics and one on the communications and navigations systems, one on the guidance and control system and one for the electronics.

There are three crew chiefs, one team leader and a lieutenant.

Goodwin said maintainers are all about safety and accomplishing the mission. Crew members work together to get things done.

Backus said the maintenance crews send out a lot of planes. He said he and the crew work on four to five planes daily at the Air Education and Training Command at the base.

As for the air rodeo, Backus said, “We want to show we are the best maintenance crew in the world.” They did just that.