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122nd airmen aim to keep planes flying

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:01 am

In 1861 Dr. Richard Gatling, a North Carolina native residing in Indianapolis, invented his namesake rotary cannon, the Gatling gun.

Now, more than 150 years later, Indiana National Guard airmen fly and maintain planes, A-10 Thunderbolts, designed around a Gatling gun, the GUA-8. And the Indiana Air Guardsmen do so with the intent of assisting and saving the lives of troops on the ground.

“When I get time to talk to my folks, I really hit home on the importance of what our real job is,” said Maj. Scott Drummond, the 122nd Fighter Wing's maintenance squadron commander.

“I might be talking to electricians, I might be talking to structural folks, I might be talking to phase folks, but really the message is all the same. Your job, bare bones, is to keep American body bags empty. That is what our core responsibility is,” said Drummond, who has been with the Fort Wayne-based wing since 1995.

Yet without the mechanics to maintain the planes, the pilots wouldn't fly and wouldn't be able to put steel on enemy targets. “We always talk about the pilots and the guys right out on the front lines as being at the tip of the sword. But without all the support organizations, and everybody in the rest of that sword, the tip doesn't exist. It takes the entire sword, from the hilt all the way up to the tip, to be a complete unit,” said Col. Craig Ash, the 122nd's maintenance group commander and a command pilot.

The maintenance squadron is one of the largest in the 122nd and Indiana Air National Guard with more than 240 airmen, and the maintenance group, commanded by Ash and totaling approximately 500 airmen, consists of two squadrons and a flight–aircraft maintenance squadron, a maintenance squadron and the maintenance operations flight.

Nearly a fifth of those airmen, who are part of the sword, are also full-time federal technicians, Guardsmen who wear the uniform but are civilian employees. The federal government shutdown limited the work the 122nd could accomplish.

“The ability to even perform maintenance on the aircraft last week was very limited,” said Ash of the furloughs during Oct. 1-4. “Every shop is a little different, but the egress shop for instance is all technicians, so when they were on furlough, I didn't have any ability to do any egress work on the aircraft. My repair and reclamation shop is all technicians.”

Approximately 24 airmen of the full-time force are Active Guard Reserve airmen, who are comparable to active-duty personnel. Unlike the federal techs, the AGR personnel were able to report to duty and work.

“So we were able to perform some of that work, but there was a lot of follow-on work that we couldn't do,” said Ash. The shutdown hindered readiness in a variety of ways - no fuel and no training, that leads to no flying and therefore no maintenance. With no work, it was all about personal and organizational readiness. “They can work on their ancillary training,” said Ash. “Until we can get flying again, we're putting extra emphasis on each other.”

The 122nd's full-time force is taking the opportunity to improve the organization where they can, but everybody's ready to get back to work, said Ash.

The 122nd airmen were ready to get back to work, maintaining the aircraft so pilots can fly by maintaining the hydraulics, airframe or the weapons systems.

It's in Master Sgt. Eric Vickrey's shop, the weapons systems shop, that maintains the A-10s' 11 weapons stations and the seven-barrel Gatling gun that can fire 60 30-millimeter rounds per second.

“Everything that we maintain back here, that's what it's for, the soldiers and the Marines on the ground,” said Vickrey, a 122nd weapons flight chief. “Without weapons, we're just another airline.”