NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
As darkness falls over Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, most people are ending their work day.
Parking lots are empty, buildings are locked up for the night, and the once-bustling installation is left mostly still except for a group of Airmen heading toward the flight line. For these individuals, their day is just beginning.
They say Vegas never sleeps, and neither does the 20th Maintenance Group, which conducts 24-hour operations whether at home at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, or on temporary duty at Nellis in support of Red Flag 17-2.
“By continually having personnel on shift, we can cover all the different aspects of maintenance,” said Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Henderson, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant superintendent and Red Flag 17-2 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron superintendent. “Crew chiefs service the jets. Weapons crews prepare them for the next day’s flying; 24-hour operations allow us to do continual maintenance on the aircraft to ensure they’re always ready to go.”
Though the work the nightshift Airmen do at Red Flag is essentially the same work they do at Shaw, the mission objective is slightly different, providing unique opportunities for Airmen to sharpen skills they don’t normally use at home. Weapons load crews, for example, have the opportunity to load live munitions onto Shaw’s F-16CM Fighting Falcons while at Nellis, as opposed to the dummy munitions they practice with back home.
“Given the huge scope of Red Flag, it’s the closest we can get to simulating (operations) in a combat environment without actually going,” said Henderson.
Henderson explained that the fast-paced and at times, chaotic atmosphere inherent to large-scale exercises such as Red Flag closely mimic a deployed environment. Working on an unfamiliar installation alongside service members from different countries and different branches of the U.S. armed forces prepares Airmen for the realities of working downrange.
“There are more than 90 aircraft here just for Red Flag and if you figure every aircraft has a pilot and a maintenance crew, you can imagine how many moving parts there are to this exercise,” said Airman 1st Class Kelly Connery, 20th Component Maintenance Squadron fuel systems journeyman. “It can feel chaotic, but it’s also really cool to have so many people working toward a single goal because we’re able to help each other out if we need to borrow equipment or if someone from another unit needs an extra body.”
That camaraderie and networking is precisely what the exercise aims to achieve.
“In my opinion, in all the years I’ve been coming to Red Flag, it’s by far the best way to prepare for going down range,” said Henderson, who has participated in more than 15 Red Flag exercises. “It’s an excellent opportunity for us to build relationships with other nations and units. That way, when we go downrange we could potentially be working with these same units and the groundwork for a successful working relationship has already been built.”
By practicing how they plan to play, Airmen from the 20th Maintenance Group set themselves up for success, doing their part to maintain the U.S. Air Force’s superiority in air, space, and cyberspace.
As the sun rises over the Las Vegas Valley, one group of Airmen head home, exhausted from a night of hard work on the windy Nellis flight line. As they prepare to leave, a well-rested crop of eager Airmen come to take their place, ready to take over the task of ensuring the 20th Fighter Wing’s jets are always fit to fly, fight, and win.