On the flightline with F-16 Fighting Falcons roaring in the background, a crew chief tries to wipe the sweat from his forehead, but ends up just smearing grease on his face as he crawls from under a jet.
The aircraft component he has been waiting for has finally arrived, and within minutes of receiving the part the Airman was back under the jet, his uniform soaked in grease and sweat.
"It simply cannot happen without us," said Staff Sgt. Sean Rindfleisch, 510th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief, referring to day-to-day flying operations.
According to Staff Sgt. Christopher Mustard, 510th AMU expediter, aircraft maintenance is the overall focal point for the whole aircraft. Crew chiefs have many responsibilities including managing repairs, preparing a jet to fly and ensuring the safety of the pilots on their assigned aircraft. Other shops assist with specific jobs, but at the end of the day, it is a crew chief's responsibility to make sure the jet is capable of flying.
While working in hot weather conditions inside a stagnant protective aircraft shelter, crew chiefs and maintainers have their own language and bond while working together to relieve job stress.
"We describe our camaraderie as one giant family," said Staff Sgt. AnnMarie Ringer, 510th AMU dedicated crew chief. "Our leadership are considered our dads and we are the children. We fight like brothers and sisters all the time, but when we spend more time at work with each other than at home, it does nothing but bring us closer together."
"I feel a lot closer than I would to other people on the base because of the sarcasm we have here on the flightline. Isn't that right, dad," Rindfleisch said to Mustard.
"When we joke around, it's because we are all working in the same conditions and try to make the best of it at that specific time," he continued.
With grease and dirt under their fingernails, this family of Airmen is always alert because in their line of work, things can change at a moment's notice.
"To explain what I have to deal with on the job is best described as a fortune cookie," said Staff Sgt. Eddie Santana, 510th AMU dedicated crew chief, after getting hydraulic fluid spilled in his lap. "Inside it always says, 'Be prepared for a new and different tomorrow.'
"Everything we do varies from day to day," he said. "We can tow an aircraft, change a gearbox, fix an engine and then be responsible for additional duties such as enlisted performance reports and advising Airmen. Regardless of what it is, we somehow find a way to get dirty."
While many parts of their job can be difficult for these Airmen, they agree the most difficult part of their job is switching aircraft and having to learn a new system. Crew chiefs may have worked on an F-15 Strike Eagle at a previous base and come to Aviano to work on an F-16.
"It's like working on an old Chevy 350 and then getting sent to work on a Toyota Prius," said Santana.
With smiles covered in grease and dirt and Airmen never knowing what to expect, the dedicated crew chiefs for the 510th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are always prepared and can't imagine doing anything differently.
"I love what I do. My parents think it's the coolest thing ever," said Rindfleisch. "It may not be a big deal for some, but to have your name on the side of a multi-million dollar aircraft is unbelievable. After nine years in the Air Force, that will never grow old."
5/24/2013 AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy