Military News

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A little grease doesn't get C-17 Globemaster III crew chief down

by Airman Valerie Monroy
JBER Public Affairs

9/17/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Airman Halbert arrives at the hospital for his appointment to get new glasses. Walking through the door, he notices how friendly everyone is. Each passerby grins or smirks at him.

The optometrist performing his eye exam has a comical glint in her eyes as she speaks to him. After the examination, an amused Airman has him try on different frames to find the ones he prefers.

As he looks in the mirror, something catches his attention. Horrified, he sees a black smudge on his upper lip, like the most enormous and grotesque mole he's ever seen, and all the pieces of the day fit together in his mind.

"I've talked to so many people today," Halbert mutters to himself.

Airman 1st Class Britton Halbert is an aerospace maintenance apprentice - also known as a crew chief - with the 703rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Halbert said he is used to having permanently stained hands and being dirty from working on planes all day, but it had never caused him much embarrassment until that day. But it's all just part of the job, he explained.

His day begins with roll call at 6:45 a.m. Everyone is accounted for before the section chief relays the work requirements for the day.

Before any aircraft takes off, it has to go through the crew chiefs.

Crew chiefs are responsible for ensuring the plane is in perfect working order. If something's wrong, they coordinate with specialists to repair what's broken and get the plane on its way.

As soon as the morning briefing is over, they don't waste a moment before starting their jobs.

"People get to work," Halbert said. "Everyone knows what they need to do."

Halbert works on the C-17 Globemaster III, a high-wing, four engine cargo craft capable of carrying payloads up to 169,000 pounds.

Some of his day-to-day duties include performing scheduled inspections and preventive maintenance on the aircraft and aircraft-installed equipment. Crew chiefs also maintain and repair aircraft and perform general mechanical work.

Before every plane takes off, a walk-around is performed to make sure there is nothing wrong. The crew chiefs check for leaks, ensure nothing is missing from the plane, none of the screws have disappeared, and that the tires aren't flat, said Airman 1st Class Damien Sloan, a fellow aerospace maintenance apprentice with the 703rd AMXS.

When a plane lands, the crew chiefs do another inspection to ensure the aircraft is still in operating-ready condition.

For Halbert, keeping busy and working with his hands is the best way to get through the day.

"I'm not somebody who can just sit down," Halbert said, tapping his foot. "I enjoy seeing hard work pay off."

While Halbert said he loves his job, there are moments when it gets tough. Some days are longer than others.

The crew chiefs wait for everyone to finish whatever they were working on before leaving, he said.

"Everybody is getting ready to go home, but you have somebody still out there working on a plane," Halbert explained. "In that moment, you think it sucks - but when you see the plane in the sky you think, 'man, we're doing that.'"

With winter on its way, the job won't be getting any easier, especially for Halbert, from Texas.

"Today I couldn't even feel my fingers," he said. "And it's not even winter yet."

It took Halbert a while to realize this was the job for him.

"Technical school can only take you so far," he said. "You don't really know the job until you're actually doing it."

Getting the hands-on experience with the planes helped him realize why he was out there in the first place.

"I never saw myself in a mechanic role," Halbert said.

Both his grandfathers were mechanics and loved getting their hands dirty with whatever they could find. Halbert wonders if maybe it was in his blood the whole time and this is where he was always meant to be.

"Maybe it just took a spark to see that I was going to enjoy this job," he said.

After the crew chiefs are released, Halbert is exhausted - but he still goes to the gym.

"I'm all about the gains, yo," Halbert joked.

Halbert said at night he looks back on his life before the military and can't believe how much it has changed.

Though his days are long and often tiring, he said he looks forward to the possibilities of the next day - although hopefully without  a huge grease mark on his face.

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