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555th AMU continues maintenance mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brooke Moeder
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Each individual has a part to play in the 31st Fighter Wing’s vision of maintaining an agile and ready force while maintaining trust as a NATO ally. The 555th Fighter Squadron and 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are operating as an important part of NATO’s around-the-clock mission.

The team is providing a 24/7 posture in support of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and its NATO allies by executing Enhanced Air Policing missions. The 555th AMU maintainers are continuously servicing and maintaining F-16 Fighting Falcons in support of the mission.

“Our team, starting back in early January, was postured to prepare a response if required to protect every inch of NATO, and the directive to support all of that territory,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Christophe Mateo, 555th AMU officer in charge.

Integrating with Allies and partners in the Black Sea region is part of a collective defensive posture along NATO’s border and to reinforce regional security through Allied airspace.

“During Enhanced Air Policing missions, we are supporting critical air coverage through NATO’s Eastern flank,” said Mateo. “We're safeguarding and reassuring our NATO allies. The pilots provide over-watch and integration with Allied nations before returning back to Aviano.”

The 555th FS and AMU are operating as if they are deployed in place, meaning the team maintains the mission and runs 24/7 operations out of Aviano Air Base. If the squadron were to deploy downrange to a remote location, there would be a limited number of support organizations to run 24-hour operations.

“We're flying real-world missions and we are flying from home station because Aviano is best postured due to the strategic location of the base,” said Chief Master Sgt. Tom Ellsworth, 555th AMU senior enlisted leader. “We can very rapidly get out to the airspace, provide combat air patrol and come back to Aviano, because we have the support functions here to maintain our aircraft.”

The 555th AMU is balancing the support of NATO’s mission with normal training operations to ensure pilots remain combat ready.

“We're launching anywhere from six to eight sorties a day,” said Mateo. “On top of that, we're also completing the training mission. We're split into two efforts right now. We have the combat side, which is the [Air Tasking Order] support, and we're supporting the training mission, which is the constant churn to make sure our pilots and aircraft are ready to do the real-world mission.”

Since mid-February, the AMU has supported more than 300 aircraft sorties and 1,700 flight hours. Each 555th AMU crew chief treats every mission as if it’s a real-world mission, so there is no difference in the way the crew chiefs perform their duties during this time.

“Right now we're all on alert,” said Airman 1st Class Derek Perez, 555th AMU F-16 crew chief. “We are staying prepared to make sure everything is consistently 100 percent good to go. We treat every jet like it's a real world scenario because at the end of the day there’s a pilot up in the air and you want them to come home.”

Duties of a crew chief include overseeing daily maintenance, identifying malfunctions and replacing parts, conducting inspections and maintaining records, and coordinating aircraft care.

“Everyone has their own specific jet so when you have the time, you clean it up and fix it,” said Perez. “You want your jet to be the very best because there's no reason for your jet not to be the best.”

Mateo commended many different Airmen and units for their contribution to the flying mission.

“We're flying 24/7 operations as a whole wing,” said Mateo. “The Air Traffic Control Tower, Airfield Management, and our Italian partners that operate in the towers, have been supporting the mission alongside us. Anytime we fly a jet, [petroleum, oil and lubricants flight] has to give us gas for the jets. The support that we've been getting is phenomenal.” 

The 555th AMU’s operations support NATO’s statement of Alliance resolve and cohesion during enhanced air policing. Maintainers ensure Allied fighters are prepared to fly air patrol missions along the Alliance’s Eastern flank.

“We are here to support our NATO allies and to support EUCOM [U.S. European Command] and NATO taskings,” said Mateo. “We’re executing the mission that we’re trained to do. If you're a firefighter, you're trained to put out the fire. If you're a cop, you're trained to provide security. If you're aircraft maintenance, you’re trained to provide combat capability. And that's what we're doing right now.”