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Air Force career opens world to F-35A maintainer

Staff Sgt. William Richardson, an F-35A crew chief with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, is from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He joined the Air Force to "see the world." The current F-35A deployment to Europe is allowing him to do just that. (U.S. Air Force photo by Micah Garbarino)

Staff Sgt. William Richardson, an F-35A crew chief with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, is from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He joined the Air Force to "see the world." The current F-35A deployment to Europe is allowing him to do just that. (U.S. Air Force photo by Micah Garbarino)

U.S. Air Force Airmen de-arm an F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft, assigned to the 421st Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on the flight line at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 11, 2019. Multiple F-35s came to the European theater as part of a Theater Security Package to conduct training with partner nation aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. William Richardson, an F-35A Lightning II crew chief, center, and fellow Airmen, recover the first F-35A to land at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 11, 2019. Multiple F-35s came to the European theater as part of a Theater Security Package to conduct training with partner nation aircraft. The fighter aircraft are assigned to the 421st Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on the flight line . (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --

Staff Sgt. William Richardson doesn’t mind that it is a cliché. He joined the Air Force to see the world. And with this F-35A Lightning II deployment to Europe, he’s doing it.

Richardson, an F-35A crew chief in the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was born on the tiny island of St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The island is a popular destination in its own right, but has an area of only 32-square miles, and is home to about 50,000 people.

When Richardson was in high school he wanted a change. His mother allowed him to leave the small island community to go live with his uncle in the second largest state in the union. Richardson finished high school in Grand Prairie, Texas, inside the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area. After high school, even Texas wasn’t big enough.

“My older brother and two cousins were in the Air Force and I knew they traveled. I wanted to see the world and so I joined,” Richardson said.  

As an F-16 and F-35A crew chief, Richardson has lived in Nevada, Florida and Utah. He’s visited Korea (twice), Italy, Germany and Spain, and his unit will support trips to more European locations throughout the summer.

“I was able to visit Rome when we were in Italy and I never thought I would be able to do that,” Richardson said. “These are things you’ve only read about in history books and don’t normally get to see in real life, but the Air Force allowed me to make that come true.”

Besides the travel, Richardson enjoys the rewarding work of supporting the mission in a very direct way.

“I like it when we have to go, go, go,” Richardson said. “We put a lot of time and a lot of work in as a team, and even though I’ve only been on the F-35A for a year, I take a lot of pride every time I see an aircraft fly by. We did that. We’re making it happen.”

When the F-35A arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base, Richardson was the first crew chief to “catch” a jet. The maintenance leadership put him in that position because they knew he could turn and catch another arriving aircraft right away.

“He’s one of the best we’ve got. He’s very motivated to get the job done, and we know we can count on him,” said Master Sgt. Jason Frayne, lead production superintendent for the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

Richardson and the other maintainers have a lot more work ahead as the 421 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron moves around Europe this summer. But they’ve also got a lot to look forward to.

“We’ve got a lot of young maintainers on this trip and it’s going to ruin every other TDY in their Air Force future,” Frayne said, smiling. “It’s been a really great trip. You can’t beat it.”