JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, Nineteenth Air Force commander, took a pause from the comments he was making inside Hangar 62 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph as a jet aircraft roared overhead.
“That’s the sound of progress,” he said. “If you’re on an Air Force base and you’re not getting interrupted all the time by jet noise, then we’re missing the mark, and that’s just one more testament to the great maintainers we have. It’s the sound of freedom.”
Wills saluted the Air Force’s maintainers – the technicians who keep the service’s fleet of aircraft roaring – as he headlined an activation ceremony Oct. 29 that showcased the 19th Air Force Maintenance Training Center, a new facility inside a decades-old hangar.
“What a great day in the life of the United States Air Force, Nineteenth Air Force and America,” he said. “Right here in the Alamo City we’re once again making history and moving our Air Force forward in spite of all of the challenges, all of the difficulties, all of the trials that you read about in the news every day. Today we bring good news to America, and that is that we’re reinvesting in our foundational skills to take great care of our Airmen who fly, who fix, who fight for our country. And if you think I’m exaggerating, you’re wrong.”
Wills said maintainers are indispensable to the mission – the “backbone” of the Air Force flying program.
“There’s no way for us to train great pilots, air battle managers, systems officers – we can’t do anything without airplanes that fly,” he said. “And in the rain, and in the heat, and in the sun, the ice, when the engines are hot and the hands are cold, it’s the maintainer out on the flightline day in and day out that makes this happen.”
The MTC, located on the south end of Hangar 62, will start producing a new generation of trainer aircraft maintenance technicians for Air Education and Training Command’s Nineteenth Air Force when classes begin in the near future.
Lt. Col. Lance Myerson, Nineteenth Air Force director of logistics, said the MTC fills a void that has existed since formal trainer aircraft maintenance training ceased at Randolph in 1995. About a decade earlier, the Air Force reclassified trainer aircraft maintenance as a commercial activity, converting active-duty maintenance organizations to contract or civil service organizations.
“Throughout the years the command relied heavily on previously trained active-duty technicians to perform maintenance as either contract employees or civil servants,” he said. “The strategy worked well for some time. However, after 25 years we no longer have the luxury of hiring previously qualified mechanics.”
Four years ago, AETC and the Nineteenth Air Force started the process to develop plans and obtain funding for a new formal aircraft maintenance training program, culminating in the MTC, Myerson said.
“The future of the Air Force pilot production is being shaped right before our eyes and the Nineteenth Air Force and Maintenance Training Center proudly stand at the forefront with the equipment and tools to build a professionally staffed maintenance training program,” he said.
The MTC features a large 10,000-square-foot open area with a resurfaced floor that will accommodate the trainer aircraft used for training; new lights; overhead infrared gas heaters; and specialized electrical components to power the aircraft. A 5,000-square-foot office and classroom area on the second floor of the hangar is also part of the training center.
Once classes begin, a team of instructors will teach students basic maintenance of the T-1A, T-6A, and T-38A aircraft that serve AETC installations as well as more advanced courses such as avionics and jet propulsion.
The ceremony concluded when Brian Bastow, Logistics Management Branch chief for the Nineteenth Air Force Directorate of Logistics and a longtime proponent of reviving formal trainer aircraft maintenance training, cut the ribbon that marked the official activation of the MTC.
The ceremony was an appropriate tribute to maintainers, Wills said.
“The reason I wanted us to get together today and make it just a little bit bigger deal than we ordinarily would is that sometimes we fail to celebrate the things every day that we take for granted,” he said. “And so we know that we’re not rolling out a brand new M-35, we’re not rolling out some kind of crazy technological advance, but it’s really important that we stop and celebrate the people who work so hard for so long to make this dream a reality.”