Whether loading training munitions by day or turning wrenches at night, maintainers from the 31st Fighter Wing are continuing to support the 555th Fighter Squadron during their inaugural participation in Real Thaw 14, an international exercise hosted by the Portuguese air force at Monte Real Air Base, Portugal.
“The Portuguese are doing live exercises during these two weeks, so there’s a lot more work going on here as opposed to what goes on day-to-day at Aviano Air Base,” said Senior Airman Troy Coe, a 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit support technician. “It’s pretty surreal being here.”
During Real Thaw 14, maintainers from the 31st Maintenance Squadron, the 555th AMU and various other maintenance flights are working together to cohesively load and unload training munitions, and maintain and repair F-16 Fighting Falcons involved in the exercise.
“During the day, we’re making sure aircraft get up in the air while repairing jets at the same time, then we transfer over to the night shift where the primary function is fixing the ‘hard broke jets,’” said Chief Master Sgt. David VanVlack, the 555th AMU superintendent. “The aircraft maintainers are trained to execute their mission as safely and efficiently as possible in accordance with technical orders.”
For many maintainers, the exercise is the first opportunity to work alongside other NATO countries outside the walls of Aviano AB. Despite language barriers and other operational differences between the various militaries, Portuguese and American maintainers have embraced their commonalities in the workplace.
“I’ve already gotten a couple of patches from the Portuguese military personnel here,” said Senior Airman Bryce Rutherford, an aircrew egress systems technician. “One guy gave me a patch right off of his sleeve, which was cool.”
In the U.S. Air Force, some occupations do not equate to positions in the Portuguese Air Force and can often be lost in translation. Although the rank structure is similar, the job duties between the individual ranks may differ.
“Even in the American military, not everyone has a first sergeant,” said Master Sgt. Noe Chavez, the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. “So, I’ve explained my role as to what I do to the Portuguese and I’ve built a lot of relationships just talking to them about my job.”
Of those maintainers is 2nd Lt. Eduardo Furtado, who has been a maintenance officer within the Portuguese air force since 2009.
“We are the connection between what the U.S. personnel need and what we as a base can offer them, logistically,” Furtado said. “Whether it’s tools, equipment or air cooling for the airplanes, I work with the U.S. maintenance officer in command and the chief to ensure that we have everything they need.”
This is also Furtado’s first time working with U.S. military in Portugal, he said.
“I like working with the American people because they don’t complicate things,”†Furtado said. “The F-16 is the one thing we have in common, so the way we work to support that mission is generally the same.”
In the end, maintainers are involved in long-range maintenance and logistical planning to ensure that the 31st FW is able to participate in international exercises – from being some of the first on the ground to welcome the pilots, to watching the last jets leave Monte Real AB after the exercise is completed.
Despite cultural differences, the mentality between the various maintainers and dedication to Real Thaw 14 is the same, no matter what uniform they wear.
“The public just sees the jets in the air, but these maintainers (are) the backbone – these are the people who make it happen,” Chavez said.