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Teamwork keeps tankers flying

Senior Airman Ryne Zeller, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft electrical environmental systems technician, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Airman Zeller is a native of Chandler, Ariz., and is deployed from the Arizona Air National Guard,in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Senior Airman Ryne Zeller, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft electrical environmental systems technician, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Airman Zeller is a native of Chandler, Ariz., and is deployed from the Arizona Air National Guard,in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Senior Airman Ryne Zeller, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft electrical environmental systems technician, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Airman Zeller is a native of Chandler, Ariz., and is deployed from the Arizona Air National Guard in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Senior Airman Ryne Zeller, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft electrical environmental systems technician, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Airman Zeller is a native of Chandler, Ariz., and is deployed from the Arizona Air National Guard in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Staff Sgt. Marcus Yancich, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Sergeant Yancich is a native of New Orleans and is deployed from MacDill, Air Force Base, FLa., in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Staff Sgt. Marcus Yancich, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Sergeant Yancich is a native of New Orleans and is deployed from MacDill, Air Force Base, FLa., in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Staff Sgt. Marcus Yancich, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Sergeant Yancich is a native of New Orleans and is deployed from MacDill, Air Force Base, Fla., in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Staff Sgt. Marcus Yancich, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, performs a preflight check to ensure a KC-135 Stratotanker is safe to fly, Aug. 11, in Southwest Asia. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. Sergeant Yancich is a native of New Orleans and is deployed from MacDill, Air Force Base, Fla., in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Saying it is strenuous work to maintain more than 30 aircraft, all of which were built in the Eisenhower era, in temperatures exceeding 110 degrees, is an understatement. However, through knowledge, determination and teamwork, it is just another successful day for the servicemembers of the 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit here in Southwest Asia.

The working dynamics at the 340 AMU differ from those at home station because the teams are comprised of very diverse crews; diverse not just in cultural backgrounds, as most Air Force teams are, but diverse in service. The teams here are a special make-up of active duty, Reserve and Guard servicemembers, all of which have different ways of doing things, said Staff Sgt. Marcus Yancich, 340 AMU crew chief. While all may follow the same technical orders, each has its own idiosyncrasies

Integrating such a diverse group can pose challenges, but the 340 AMU takes that challenge and turns it into an advantage. 

"Sometimes when a new member arrives, the first week can be challenging because of the hectic pace. Getting new members up to speed requires teamwork from the very beginning. It is through this growing process that we build camaraderie. It is amazing that my total force team has been able to blend and work together so well," Sergeant Yancich, deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., said. 

Senior Airman Ryne Zeller, 340 AMU aircraft electrical environmental systems technician, agreed. "At my home station, it is a much slower pace. Here, not only are we working with new people who do things slightly different, but we're achieving the mission in a high operational tempo environment. This different work style initially creates problems but, because of the pace, we end up falling in sync; this is the moment we become a true team." 

"Team building is important because we do not bring teams here, we create them in the AOR and we bring them together in a matter of days," said Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Kitt, 340 AMU superintendent, deployed from McConnell AFB, Kan. 

It is through these strong teams they are able to get the mission completed every day, said Maj. Aaron Beam, 340 AMU officer in charge, who hails from Phoenix, Ariz. "The mission happens, despite the challenges and obstacles, because of the hard work the teams put into it," he said. 

"Seeing the results of our work is the most satisfying part of my job," Airman Zeller, deployed from Phoenix Air National Guard, Ariz., said. The plane taking off is doing so because our team fixed it, and that makes you feel like you have really made a difference." 

"The operational tempo here sometimes requires us to be outside working like ants in a frenzy just to get the mission accomplished; however, that is when I really feel like I am contributing to today's fight," Sergeant Yancich, a native of New Orleans, La., said.
Airman Zeller, a Chandler, Ariz. native, said that because the high-mission tempo requires the aircraft to fly almost every day, the maintainers must work hard to keep the aircraft in optimal condition. "Back home, if an aircraft breaks it can be switched out with a spare; here, there are no spares." 

Since every aircraft is actively engaged in supporting the mission, any aircraft that breaks must be fixed quickly. This is where the cohesive teams really shine, Major Beam said. "The maintainers make the impossible fixes possible and they make it look easy. This allows the wing to fly the missions tasked to them each and every day."
Keeping the KC-135s in the air every day is a testament to the hard work and synergy of the teams, Major Beam, deployed here from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., said. The average age of the KC-135s here is 49 years old, yet the maintainers are able to keep these aircraft mission-capable 24/7. Keeping the tankers in the air makes it possible for the aircraft crew members to deliver up to 200,000 pounds of fuel to aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan. The 379 AEW provides close to 85 percent of all the air-refueling support in Iraq and nearly 35 percent for Afghanistan in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. 

"It is the positive attitudes and incredible work ethic of our maintainers that keeps the KC-135 in the air and in the fight every day," Chief Kitt, a native of Birmingham, Ala., said.