18th EMS Armament Flight keystone to Kadena combat readiness
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- (Editor's note: This is the second feature article in a three-part series highlighting the Airmen and teams within the 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron and how they are essential to the mission of Kadena Air Base and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.)
In the heat of an air-to-air, fighter jet-to-fighter jet conflict, each pilot has to have complete faith that the multimillion-dollar aircraft will respond to every one of his or her instinctive commands - thrust, maneuvers and weapons.
The 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron's armament flight, which acts as the focal point for weapons systems maintenance for the F-15 Eagles from the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons here, ensures Kadena's combat power is ready for employment at a moment's notice.
"We inspect, repair and troubleshoot weapons-related equipment to ensure 100 percent war-fighting capability," said Senior Airman Geoffrey Fitzjarrell, 18th EMS armament systems technician. "At all times we are ready and fully mission capable. What we do at this shop makes these jets what they are."
The F-15 Eagles assigned to the base utilize a variety of missile launcher and fuel tank adapters, ammunition loading systems and a 20 mm Gatling gun, all of which require unmatched attention to detail from the armament flight to ensure the safety of the pilot and aircraft.
"The gun is very complex, and anything off by a second in timing is a catastrophe for the jet," Fitzjarrell added. "Every day what we do is meticulous and in-detail."
In an overseas environment, especially so close to potential threats in the region, Fitzjarrell said operations at the unit run differently than most stateside bases.
"It's a faster pace, being overseas," Fitzjarrell said. "Everything's in real time, so the demand is a lot higher. When they turn the heat up, we're expected to go."
Another major difference between stateside bases and the mission of the Keystone of the Pacific that is Kadena Air Base comes from the limited capability to reach out to nearby Air Force installations for equipment or components.
"It's not easy for us to reach back like it is stateside, where they can go base to base and get parts for something," said Tech. Sgt. James Parks, 18th EMS section chief. "It may take some time, so ... they've got to catch it the first time."
Just like nearly all components of aircraft maintenance, anything that goes astray could mean the difference between mission complete and disaster.
"You've got to do your job the first time; there's no do-over," Fitzjarrell said. "Our bomb racks carry (the F-15s') fuel tanks. If he has to jettison that fuel tank and we don't do our job, he can't let that fuel tank go, and he could crash or something could malfunction."
In a unique location like Okinawa, Kadena's armament also boasts another couple attributes that separate it from other Air Force bases.
"At the arms shop, we have some people that are load certified, so not only do we do the loading side of the house as weapons, we're able to load, repair, inspect, fix and recover all spectrums," Fitzjarrell said.
"That's a unique thing to Kadena; it's the only base in the Air Force that has load crews in the back shop," Parks added. "So we definitely do more than our fair share supporting the flightline.
"Another unique thing is we do a lot of rotating between the two maintenance sections: the gun and maintenance floor," Parks continued. "Whereas the other bases I've been to, whatever section you get assigned to, you're pretty much stuck on that for the majority of your tour. You get trained on the other stuff, but you come back to what you were assigned to. Everybody's quality ... When they deploy, they're not just relying on one guy to fix the gun and one guy to fix the equipment; they can do both."
Whether responding to a jammed weapon or performing an 18-month Gatling gun inspection for one of 54 F-15s assigned to the base, the 18th EMS Armament Flight is an essential behind-the-scenes force that gives Kadena combat lethality and readiness posture.