Experiencing the job through Airmen's eyes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tabatha Zarrella
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series on members of the 20th Fighter Wing leadership shadowing Airmen of Team Shaw, learning and experiencing Airmen's jobs.

The 55th Fighter Squadron here had a new dedicated crew chief join its ranks, Chief Master Sgt. Charles Mills, 20th Fighter Wing command chief.

Mills, who arrived at Shaw just under a year ago, has served in the Air Force for 24 years as a personnel specialist and had never experienced first-hand what a crew chief's job entailed, until now.

Upon arriving to the flightline on any given day, unsure whether or not it'll be an easy or strenuous one, briefly captures the continuous grind of a crew chiefs' mission. Resting upon their shoulders is the integrity of the plane and safety of the pilot.

In roll call formation at 5:30 a.m., Mills stands at attention with 22 other Airmen ready to begin a 12-hour shift shadowing Staff Sgt. Stephen Leonardi, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintainer.

Before the group fell out of formation, Mills addressed them:

"Thank you for this opportunity," said Mills. "I've been thinking about this all weekend, because I want to know what every Airman on this base does, and I'll walk a minute in your shoes."

After donning his coveralls, Mills is led to the assignment board where he can see the list of Airmen assigned to specific jets and their tasks. He was then led to the flightline toolbox, where he and Leonardi analyzed it to ensure all tools and necessary gear were accounted for.

While the moon and stars still hung in the sky during peak morning hours, Mills and Leonardi started their walk out to their assigned jet to begin a pre-flight inspection.

When a pilot is scheduled to fly, a crew chief's main responsibility is to perform a pre-flight inspection and prepare the aircraft for flight, explained Leonardi.

During the inspection, Mills and Leonardi were tasked to change a tire on another jet. Mills, who was eager to get his hands dirty, was ready to take on the task.

As they finished changing the tire it was time to return to their original jet where they met up with Maj. Gen. H.D. Polumbo Jr., Ninth Air Force commander.

Polumbo, who would be piloting the plane which Leonardi and Mills had inspected earlier that morning, was in for a treat as Mills got into position to taxi him out.  It's not everyday a command chief marshals a fighter jet.

"Being able to (marshal) out Polumbo was pretty cool, I've never done that," Mills said.

Upon completing additional tasks throughout the rest of the shift, the day came full-circle, ending at the 55th FS.

"It was an honor," said Leonardi. "You have someone who's been in (the service) for about 20 years and has never done this job or been out here to see how we operate. Having him suit up as one of us and do the job is pretty cool."

Not only did the opportunity give Mills more knowledge of what crew chiefs do on a daily basis, but he is hopeful he'll be able to make an impact on future decisions.

This will help leadership to be better focused on decisions they make when they talk about manpower and talk about things they're going to do, Mills said.

"Just sitting out here and knowing what (crew chiefs) go through, gives me a better understanding of what is happening out here on the flightline to get those aircraft up in the air," Mills said.

Applying the knowledge gained during shadowing sessions with Airmen aids Mills and other 20th leadership personnel to meet challenges head-on by providing Airmen the means to be combat-ready at all times, explained the command chief.

"I tell you, the PEP (pride enthusiasm and passion) is high," Mills said with a huge smile. "I am exhilarated. Just knowing and being out here, seeing these Airmen do what they do best, it's exciting. This is the energy you need, no matter how bad your day is going. One day when it's time for me to hand the leadership stick to someone else and walk off the stage in retirement, I'll remember this experience."

This will not be Mills' last opportunity to see the mission through the Airman's eyes, he plans to shadow Airmen doing different jobs once a month and give them an opportunity to shadow him.