by 2nd Lt Allie Delury
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
2/12/2014 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- 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, 555th
Aircraft Maintenance Unit support technician. "It's pretty surreal being
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, 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, REAL THAW 14 is the first opportunity to work
alongside other NATO countries outside the walls of Aviano. 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, 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, 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
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," said Furtado. "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.
"I like working with the American people because they don't complicate things," said
Furtado. "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 Fighter Wing is able to
participate in international exercises--from being some of the first
personnel on the ground to welcome the pilots, to watching the last jets
leave Monte Real Air Base 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--the
backbone--these are the people who make it happen," said Chavez.