Gamblers provide full-spectrum support for Operation Unified Protector

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"These Gamblers never fold."

This is the motto by which the Airmen with the Gambler Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron -- collectively called the Gamblers -- live. They deployed here from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and have been supporting Operation Unified Protector for more than five months.

Sortie after sortie, the Shaw Airmen generate combat-ready aircraft to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under attack or threat of attack.

"Our mission is to provide air suppression and destruction of enemy defense," said Capt. Matt Brown, 77th EFS chief of aircrew flight equipment and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. "We locate, find and target enemy surface-to-air systems, such as missiles and anti-aircraft artillery, using our F-16 sensor systems."

Super Squadron

"I don't think of it as two separate squadrons, but rather a super squadron," said Lt. Col. John Vargas, 77th FS commander. "We have been in lock step with our AMU and work together as a team to not only accomplish, but also excel, at any tasking that is directed our way. I wouldn't want to be paired with any other unit or group of maintenance professionals out there."

On the operational side of the house are the 77th EFS pilots and squadron aviation resource management, along with weather, communications, aircrew flight equipment, mobility and intelligence specialists.

"Basically, we have everybody here to run an operation smoothly," said Brown.

The intelligence specialists gather the information necessary for the 77th EFS pilots to fly the missions, while the resource manager and other support Airmen ensure the pilots' qualifications are met. The weather technicians provide an accurate report about the atmosphere. The communications Airmen ensure the computer systems are running without any glitches. The aircrew flight equipment Airmen provide functional and operational gear such as G-suits, survival vests, harnesses, masks and helmets. The pilots develop mission plans based on NATO taskings.

"We are here performing the jobs that we are trained for," said Capt. Bailyn Beck, 77th EFS F-16 pilot and chief of mobility.

Unyielding performance in each of these tasks benefits the symbiotic relationship and ultimately, the mission.

"We all have one goal in mind; it's to get the mission done," said Staff Sgt. Joy Hebron, 77th EFS aviation resource manager. "And we need to work together to accomplish that."

All aces, no jokers

"Do you want to see the best aircraft?" asked Senior Airman Shenelle Galbreath, Gambler AMU avionics technician. "There it is."

Galbreath is pointing at an F-16 on the Aviano flightine. As an avionics technician, she analyzes malfunctions, inspects and maintains integrated avionics on F-16s, including that particular aircraft.

"Basically, I ensure that the pilot computer system as far as communication and navigation flight control systems work properly," she said.

"Our mission is to produce capable aircraft to fly missions that the Combined Air Operation Center directs," said 1st Lt. Matt Larson, Gambler AMU officer in charge. "Our mission includes basic servicing, and minor repair, up to heavy aircraft phase inspections."

After a sortie, the pilot informs the crew about any problems experienced during the flight. The crew chief carries the heavy burden of being in charge of more than 300 aircraft inspections per flight.

"I am responsible for the aircraft," said Airman 1st Class John Kulwatno, Gambler AMU crew chief. "I crew the jets to make sure all the maintenance is done. These include pre- and post-flight inspections, tires, hydraulics oil and more."

Performing maintenance on a fleet of aircraft is like a hospital triage system -- only in reverse. In the hospital, patients with critical conditions receive treatment first; for the aircraft, it all comes down to aircraft availability. For example, if the unit has to decide which aircraft to maintain first between one with a tire problem or another with an engine malfunction, the unit chooses the first aircraft because it's easier to fix quickly to provide the Combined Air Operations Center with more aircraft available for missions.

Tech. Sgt. William Geiser, Gambler AMU expediter and production supervisor, works as an aircraft triage manager. He coordinates repairs with all the maintenance crewmembers including electro-environmental specialists, weapons crews, crew chiefs and avionics technicians.

"I put the right people at the right job to make sure the job gets done expeditiously," Geiser said. "I direct them and set priorities to make sure they know what job they have to do and when."

One mission

Since being deployed here, the unit's F-16s have been flying six times more flying hours than they would at home station.

"Are you kidding me? The men and women of the Gambler team have been executing surge operations for more than five months with few hiccups in providing combat air power to the Combined Forces Air Component commander," said Vargas. "The offensive counter air provided by the Gamblers has been key to the accomplishment of operational and strategic level objectives and the dismantling of the Libyan integrated air defenses."

There are no jokers among the Gamblers -- they're all aces.