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Staff Sgt. Christopher Curry(right) and Senior Airman Roseanne Williams, 332 Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare to load munitions on this F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Curry(right) and Senior Airman Roseanne Williams, 332 Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare to load munitions on this F-16 Fighting Falcon. (Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Curry(right) and Senior Airman Roseanne Williams, 332 Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare to load munitions on this F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Curry(right) and Senior Airman Roseanne Williams, 332 Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare to load munitions on this F-16 Fighting Falcon. (Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Curry and Williams prepare to load munitions on this F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Curry and Williams prepare to load munitions on this F-16 Fighting Falcon. (Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

War for the airmen who fix, load and launch the F-16s prowling Iraqi skies isn’t a daily fest of adrenaline.

Work can be mundane, sometimes intense, always long.

Misawa’s maintainers in Iraq are rarely in the media spotlight — you won’t find them in a story about a particularly fierce firefight, for instance — but day after day, night after night, they toil on the flight line, making an important contribution to the fight.

The maintainers comprise the bulk of the more than 400 airmen deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in support of Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron. The squadron’s arsenal of fighter pilots and F-16s are providing close-air support and other capabilities to coalition ground forces.

In a series of e-mails, six deployed airmen from the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron offered a glimpse into what downrange life is like for an aircraft maintainer.

The job, they said, mostly mirrors what they do in northern Japan, but in Iraq they put in more hours and work with fully armed planes that don’t always return as such.

“Being downrange, we actually turn the aircraft for combat sorties instead of local training sorties,” wrote Airman 1st Class Bruce C. Smith, an assistant dedicated crew chief from Crossett, Ark.

That link to the action outside the wire keeps them ticking through 12-hour or longer shifts, six days a week.

“It is real for the first time in my career since Sept. 11,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Vuittonet Jr., a dedicated crew chief from Warsaw, Ind.

Motivation for Staff Sgt. Christopher Curry, a weapons load crew chief from Baltimore, is “knowing whenever one of my jets takes off headed for a combat mission, my crew and I made that happen because of our hard work.” The paycheck isn’t bad either, he wrote, “though it’s not at all about the money.”

That link to the action outside the wire keeps them ticking through 12-hour or longer shifts, six days a week.

“It is real for the first time in my career since Sept. 11,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Vuittonet Jr., a dedicated crew chief from Warsaw, Ind.

Motivation for Staff Sgt. Christopher Curry, a weapons load crew chief from Baltimore, is “knowing whenever one of my jets takes off headed for a combat mission, my crew and I made that happen because of our hard work.” The paycheck isn’t bad either, he wrote, “though it’s not at all about the money.”

Senior Airman Rodney Scott, an F-16 avionics systems journeyman, said he stays focused “knowing the people on the ground depend on these jets for support.”

Oxford, N.C. native, Staff Sgt. Natatera Green, a training monitor for the weapons section, wrote that she helped distribute 272 M-16 weapons to airmen in support of war efforts.

What motivates her is “everything, from working day in and day out to bring everyone home safely to their families, to the guys who’ve been hurt or killed to support what we do here. They have earned my respect and I want to earn theirs.”

Finding time to unwind

Tech. Sgt. Brad Sayers, a flight line expeditor from Yorktown, Ind., squeezes in runs at the gym and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) study in his free time — but he only sleeps three to five hours a day, he wrote.

Curry last saw Eddie Murphy’s new movie “Norbit” at the base theater and tries his hand in poker Monday nights at the community center.

A few expected the pace to be a step quicker. But they can’t afford complacency. Balad recently was hit with what has been described as “a pretty intense mortar attack.” A maintainer was slightly injured when a mortar hit his billet pod, according to Lt. Col. Chuck Toplikar, 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, but he was back on the flight line the next day.

On his first deployment, Scott wrote what’s been different for him is “that this is not an exercise and everything is real.”

Besides missing their families, the maintainers have few complaints. Sayers wishes for “more pavement and less mud.” Curry misses his “huge bathtub, heated toilet seats, personal shower, fiber optic Internet, my car and the food my friends cook.”

Though their deployment won’t be up until sometime in May, the maintainers already are hatching plans for what they’ll do when they return.

“Taking my boys fishing and giving my wife a well-deserved break,” wrote Vuittonet.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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