by Staff Sgt. Derek VanHorn
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
4/2/2015 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- When
a recruiter approached Rodney Shepherd a few years ago, he was working
at a local steak joint outside Oklahoma City. He usually worked the
front register but would find his way to the back to help out with
dishes when things got busy. It was the dirtiest task, and admittedly,
his least favorite part of the job.
The recruiter's pitch worked and almost five years later, Shepherd's changed his stance -- he can't wait to get his hands dirty.
"Most people in the shop don't like working on brakes," said Shepherd, a
senior airman with the 35th Maintenance Squadron. "It's the dirtiest
job, but personally, it's my favorite."
Shepherd works in the hydraulic systems back shop -- often called
"hydro" -- where he and a team of five maintain hydraulic systems
associated with Misawa's fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons. Their main jobs
usually include landing gear systems, brakes and flight controls.
In the past, Shepherd said he'd gawk at the proposition of getting down
to the literal nuts and bolts of a problem. Now, it's just business as
"I never was the most mechanically inclined person," Shepherd laughed.
"But, this job has given me skills I never knew I had. Now if I have
something like a car issue, it's nothing for me to hop online and watch a
video and then go fix it myself. I wouldn't go back and trade this job
Car maintenance probably pales in comparison to maintaining F-16s, but
Shepherd said he's fortunate to be able to support some of the world's
most powerful machines. He's not the only one.
"I would say hydraulics -- next to propulsion -- is the most important
aspect of the F-16," said Staff Sgt. Brian Argenti, 35th MXS hydraulics
systems craftsman. "Once [pilots] are in the air, how are they going to
control the jet and land without hydraulics?"
The answer is obvious -- they're not; and Argenti and his team of five take pride in their unique role.
Rather than having specialists out on the flightline with hands on the
jets, they work as back shop experts who only work on parts that are
sent their way by crew chiefs. A computer system will code a part for
maintenance, and after being delivered, the hydro team dissects each
part with extreme detail. Equipped with safety goggles, grease-covered
gloves, technical orders and a slew of tools, each job is performed like
clockwork. Few words are said; the team is so familiar with each other
that each step movement almost seems scripted.
"We overhaul, clean, service and test parts to make sure they're working
as advertised," said Argenti, who's spent 10 years working on
flightlines around the Air Force. "We'll break them down to their
beginning and build them all the way back up."
Misawa is the first base Argenti's worked in a back shop, and it's offered a revamped appreciation for the work.
"It's a new environment where everything comes to us disembodied. Just
seeing the insides of things and how they work -- getting to the guts of
the jet without actually working on it -- is a fun challenge," Argenti
said. "It gives you appreciation for how things work when you're
critically thinking how to best repair certain parts."
The parts are then vetted through a series of steps for approval before
returning to the aircraft parts store, where they're certified for not
only Misawa's jets, but F-16s across the globe.
"It feels good knowing we're putting the best available parts out there for the entire fleet," Argenti said.
Last year alone, Misawa's hydro shop overhauled over 50 brake systems
and 30 landing gear sets, making them as good as new for any F-16. While
their approach is calm and methodical, they know their impact is a bit
"Hydraulics are pretty much the lifeblood of the F-16 system," Shepherd
said. "Without our parts working properly, pilots could literally fall
out of the sky."
There's a cool, comfortable feel across their shop - a strong presence of confidence and awareness.
"It's not like we're out here calling ourselves the most important shop
on the flightline," Shepherd said. "But we know we're as valuable as any
part that makes up the maintenance team. I've been fortunate enough to
be placed in a good shop and I'm proud to be a part of the F-16