JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Despite the short notice, the jet was ready.
“Chocks out!” shouted the aircrew signaling to the crew chief to remove the blocks underneath the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
Time was of the essence as a patient with coronavirus, who was fighting for a breath of air, needed to be transported quickly to a hospital in another state. Accompanied with his tech data, the designated crew chief meticulously glanced around the aircraft once more to ensure that no stone (or screw) was left unturned.
It's not every day you have a flight as dramatic as that one, but one thing is for certain: behind each successful mission is a crew chief who assumed the responsibility of keeping the aircraft safe and the people it carries.
Crew chiefs, formally known as tactical aircraft maintainers, are generalists who coordinate the aircraft’s care and call-in specialists when they find a problem. They are Airmen and civilians who oversee the overall maintenance of an aircraft.
Someone who understands and carries that responsibility well is Tech. Sgt. Brian Rien, a flying crew chief of the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and Reserve Citizen Airman of the 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here.
“There are most definitely important aspects of my job that people might not be aware of.” said Rien. “The aircraft maintenance career field in general is unique in the sense that peoples’ lives depend on the work we perform. All the work we do on the aircraft has the direct ability to either hinder or enhance that aircraft’s capability and I always keep that in my mind. There is no room for error and everything that we do requires attention to detail and integrity.”
McChord was recently involved in an airlift mission to transport a patient from Washington to another hospital for care. The patient, a service member bed-ridden by COVID-19, needed to undergo surgery.
Within a matter of hours, McChord generated an aircraft and picked up an aeromedical team while a second aircraft prepared to transport the patient and medical team. The simultaneous launch of two aircraft within hours of notification got the individual to the hospital safely and got the surgery needed.
“The crew chief is the last person a pilot sees before breaking ground,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cameron Pence, senior enlisted leader of the 446th AXMS. “The thumbs up and salute from the crew chief as the aircraft taxis is the unspoken guarantee that everything possible has been done to provide a safe and capable aircraft for the crew.”
Upon completing basic training, crew chiefs spend approximately three months in a specialized training school.
Rien, who has been a crew chief for nearly 11 years, has seen his fair share of missions.
“Having been all over the world and been part of airlift movements in bringing troops home, I recognize the responsibility we have in doing our job to the best of our abilities,” said Rien.
Rien said it’s a privilege knowing that the work that he does and other fellow maintainers, no matter how trivial it may seem, contributes to the Air Force’s mission in global readiness.
(This article is part of a three-part series that highlights the contributions of different jobs in the 446th Airlift Wing.)