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Crew chiefs certify for top job honors

TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- Having your name painted on the side of an F-15 Eagle or an F-22 Raptor is something to be proud of, but labeling a jet as "your own" comes with serious responsibility. 

The dedicated crew chief program here assigns top-notch crew chiefs from each aircraft maintenance unit to specific aircraft, making that crew chief responsible for every aspect of its maintenance and care. 

The task is tremendous, and only the most qualified maintainers are chosen for the job. 

Dedicated crew chiefs are responsible for the air-worthiness of the jet from nose to tail. This means that every bit of maintenance must be personally checked out by them to ensure the aircraft meets even the most stringent Air Force standards. 

"The DCCs are the guys who greet the pilots at the jet with a salute and handshake before every mission," said Chief Douglas Martin, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent, who has been a DCC for more than 25 years. "DCCs ensure every aspect of the jet is safe and ready to fly. They help the pilots strap into the cockpit, conduct start-up checks and launch the jets with confidence." 

The dedicated crew chief program, which is an Air Force tradition that has been running strong on Tyndall for decades, gives crew chiefs the opportunity single themselves out as the top crew chiefs in their units. The position is also one of leadership because younger and less experienced crew chiefs look up to those who are recognized as DCCs. 

An exceptional DCC has strong military bearing, maintains their aircraft to a level beyond reproach and understands the importance of keeping a jet in flying status by conducting the highest quality of maintenance, said Chief Martin. The DCC ceremony is a quarterly event that honors the newest inductees. 

Before being inducted as an official DCC, however, the selected Airmen must complete a one-week course intended to offer a broad perspective and clear understanding of flying operations. 

"The course teaches crew chiefs about all aspects of flying operations here," said Chief Martin. "They learn about the pilot upgrade process, the command structure, and 'big picture' flight line operations." 

The purpose of the certification course is to stress that successful flying operations are founded on a team effort between pilots, schedulers, maintainers and squadron leadership. And as a dedicated crew chief, the Airmen play a pivotal role in the success of our flying mission, said Chief Martin. 

"The DCC course gives you the training necessary to know what kind of responsibility a DCC must take on," said Staff Sgt. Marcus James, 95th AMU dedicated crew chief. 

"The certification course teaches the total maintenance concept, management and leadership skills," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Conley, 43rd AMU dedicated crew chief. 

Completing the certification course is only the beginning. Assuming the responsibility as a DCC and working to ensure every part of the aircraft is well maintained takes more than "turning wrenches." 

"As an F-15 crew chief, I've learned that a 'can-do' attitude, having the will to learn and good old-fashion experience ultimately provides Airman what it takes to be an effective and valuable crew chief," said Sergeant James. 

A strong sense of pride has already set in for the newly inducted members. 

"The pride of watching your aircraft take off and return safely," said Sergeant Conley. "That's what I enjoy most about being a crew chief." 

Each DCC will have their own challenges as the lead maintainer, but all DCCs understand the satisfaction of being the best at what they do. 

"My favorite part is when I snap to attention and salute the pilot that trusts my work and judgment," said Sergeant James. "That's what we are all here for. It's a good feeling, and nothing can compare to that sense of accomplishment."