By Lt. Col. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 17, 2016
SAVANNAH, Ga. -- More than 260 Air National Guardsmen from five states are attending a unique, weeklong course in aircraft maintenance here to enhance proficiency in everything from hydraulics to electrical generation.
The annual event, now in its eighth year, is called Maintenance University, explained Capt. James Campbell, the course's detachment commander. It was created in 2008 by maintainers at the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing because of the difficulty that traditional Guardsmen have accomplishing proficiency training on drill weekends.
Those Guardsmen often have to juggle conflicting demands during drill, from mandatory medical exams and physical fitness testing to ancillary training events like suicide awareness and information security, Campbell said.
"Drill weekend is very compressed, with a lot of appointments, ancillary training and all the other things that drill-status Guardsmen have to do to maintain readiness," said Campbell, commander of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Maintenance Operations Flight in Louisville.
"But those things take time away from our primary mission, which is aircraft maintenance, and many of our Airmen wanted more hands-on time with the aircraft. So Maintenance University was designed to get our Airmen off base for a solid week, to a place like Savannah, Georgia, where they could do nothing but work on aircraft in a structured training environment."
Staff Sgt. Ernst Visscher, a C-130 crew chief from the Montana Air National Guard, said it's a great idea.
"As a drill-status Guardsman, this gives us a lot more experience than we can get at home station," he said. "Yesterday, we did an engine run, which is something I've never done back home. That was a really great experience."
Campbell said participation in Maintenance University has grown every year -- a testament to its efficacy. What began as a way to keep traditional Kentucky Air Guardsmen proficient on C-130H aircraft maintenance has expanded to include units from a half-dozen locations and more than 1,000 total Airmen.
This year, participating units include the 103rd Airlift Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard; the 120th Airlift Wing, Montana Air National Guard; the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard; and the 165th Airlift Wing, Georgia Air National Guard.
The course, being staged at the Air National Guard's Air Dominance Center from June 13 to 18, offers other benefits in addition to helping Airmen maintain proficiency, Campbell said. One of those is informal networking.
"If you've got a problem with hydraulics and you can't figure it out, who do you call?" Campbell said. "Maintenance University gives our Airmen a chance to develop a network of maintainers at other units that they can bounce ideas off of. Now they have a name, now they have a face, and they can ask, 'Hey, have you guys seen this, and how did you fix it?'"
Airman 1st Class Kevin Douglas, a drill-status Guardsman and C-130 crew chief from the Missouri Air National Guard, agreed.
"I wish I could attend more classes, but it's only a week," Douglas said. "I've really enjoyed meeting new people because I'm able to learn from other units and see how they do things. That's extremely valuable."
Another benefit is the specialized training being offered by national subject mater experts on such topics as vibration analysis, said 2nd Lt. Daniel Sanford, a maintenance officer from the Connecticut Air National Guard.
"Our maintainers are qualified in vibration analysis, but it's really great to have that SME teaching you and providing inside tips based on their long corporate knowledge," he said.
A fourth benefit of Maintenance University is the opportunity it provides to build esprit de corps.
"We have a lot of new people who haven't gone on (temporary duty assignments), so Maintenance University is a great way for our Airmen to learn more about each other and boost esprit de corps," Sanford said. "It's really rewarding to see everyone from the different shops interact with each other and build good working relationships."
For Staff Sgt. Preston Pemberton, a full-time electrician in the Connecticut Air National Guard, the biggest benefit of Maintenance University is the opportunity it provides to train outside his specialty.
"I'm learning a lot about things like propulsion systems or hydraulics," he said. "Being in those classes and having the chance to do things like get my hands on the engines is really outstanding."
Sanford said the course is so valuable, his Airmen look forward to it every year.
"Our Airmen, from the most junior enlisted members to the senior NCOs, have nothing but positive feedback about the training they're getting," he said. "They love the fact that they are able to get off base for a week and concentrate solely on aircraft maintenance, network with other maintainers in the C-130 community and have some down time with each other to build unit cohesion. It's always a great experience."