Maintenance unit keeps B52s flying out of Guam base
“It rains just an ungodly amount,” said Master Sgt. Curtis Jensen, production superintendent of the 23rd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit now deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to support six B-52 bombers.
But despite the rain and constant maintenance challenges posed by Guam’s heat, humidity and salty air, the 177 bomber maintenance personnel from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., have managed to keep the B-52s in good enough trim to allow the aging bombers to complete all 72 of their scheduled sorties.
“The guys are wet from when they come in to work until they go home,” Jensen said. The rain — almost 15 inches has fallen on Guam this month — has revealed leaks in the planes not evident in Minot’s drier climate.
“It’s something we’re learning day by day here: finding out where leaks are, plugging leaks up and taking care of our people,” Jensen said. “It’s impressive to me that there’s no complaining whatsoever. The mission definitely comes first with them.”
Bombers from Minot were the first deployed as part of the current bomber rotation to Guam in February 2004. Since then, both the hosts and the bomber units have refined their procedures, said Col. Mark Mueller, Guam’s 36th Maintenance Support Group commander. “We use lessons learned from the previous similar units to identify the unique needs of the particular platform that comes in — whether it be B-52s, B-1s or the B-2.
“We’re constantly working the supply chain to make sure that when we do go down and need a part, that we can get the thing here as quick as possible,” Mueller said. “Whether it’s through Federal Express or through the supply channels or AMC lift. Whatever it is; we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
“It’s a 46-year-old aircraft,” said Capt. Randy Schwinler, 23rd EXAMU officer in charge. “Because it’s so old, we have a lot of parts that are sometimes hard to get. But we do order parts and they come in quickly.”
Also, Mueller said, “We’re constantly bringing a new mix of people into the group. … We have to get everybody on the same sheet … so we can provide a safe jet for the air crew that flies it every day.”
Input from crews passing through provides new perspectives and leads to improvements, he added.
The 23rd Expeditionary Bomber Squadron aviators, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the flight-ready planes to train in the Pacific.
“The integration with some of the other units in a different theater is something that we can’t get at home,” said Lt. Col. Gerald Haunchell, 23rd EBS commander. From Guam, the unit flies training missions to Asia, Australia and Hawaii.
A separate rotational deployment of KC-135 air tankers to Andersen, Haunchell said, means the bomber pilots see a refueling tanker “just about every day. That’s good training for the guys. They’re getting some good experience.”
Recent regional tensions following North Korea’s reported nuclear test have not affected the deployment, Haunchell said.
“There’s been no change to our ops at all. We’re still flying the same exercise schedule we plotted out before we came out here,” he said. “We’re ready for a task — it is a combat unit — if they need something from us, but I’m not doing anything different this week than I was three weeks ago.”