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103rd Airlift Wing Deploys C-21 Maintainers: Flying Yankees take show on the road for the first time

The 103rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 118th Airlift Squadron, both out of the 103rd Airlift Wing, Conn. Air National Guard, boarded a C-9 on the ramp at Bradley ANG Base, East Granby, Conn. July 19, 2009, deploying to Southeast Asia in support of overseas contingency operations. The deployment will be the first overseas maintenance deployment for the 103rd Airlift Wing since acquiring the C-21 bridge mission.  (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Josh Mead)

The 103rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 118th Airlift Squadron, both out of the 103rd Airlift Wing, Conn. Air National Guard, boarded a C-9 on the ramp at Bradley ANG Base, East Granby, Conn. July 19, 2009, deploying to Southeast Asia in support of overseas contingency operations. The deployment will be the first overseas maintenance deployment for the 103rd Airlift Wing since acquiring the C-21 bridge mission. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Josh Mead)

Families gather July 19, 2009, along the back side of the main hangar at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn. to see their loved-ones board a C-9 bound for Southwest Asia in support of overseas contingency operations.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

Families gather July 19, 2009, along the back side of the main hangar at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn. to see their loved-ones (Flying Yankees from the 103rd Airlift Wing) board a C-9 bound for Southwest Asia in support of overseas contingency operations. The deployment will be the first overseas maintenance deployment for the wing since acquiring a C-21 bridge mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

BRADLEY ANG BASE, East Granby, Conn. -- On Sunday, July 19, 2009, guardsmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing lined up on the ramp and boarded a C-9 bound for Southwest Asia to support the unit's first ever C-21 overseas deployment.

"The active duty are strapped fairly well with Ops tempo on the C-21 side. So we volunteered in the guard, between our unit and Fargo to go over and relieve the active duty for four months this summer. Fargo has been over there for two months, we're getting ready to leave today to go relieve them and cover the last two," said Lt. Col. Brian Burger, commander, 118th Airlift Squadron.

The Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and the 118th Airlift Squadron were asked to support the overseas C-21 mission with either 60 or 30-day rotations.

"I'm going to miss my family quite a bit. I miss my two kids already," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Rivard, aircraft electrician, 103rd Maintenance Group. "It's not a very long deployment - get the mission done and come home and get back to normal."

The deployment may be shorter than others, however, it is not any less important. According to Lt. Col. Jerry McDonald, commander, 103rd Maintenance Group, this deployment will also be the first C-21 mission to be supported by blue-suit maintainers in addition to regular contracted maintenance.

"When the decision was made to assign C-21s to Guard units, there was skepticism as to whether or not this airframe could be effectively maintained by blue-suit maintenance versus the contract maintenance already used by active-duty C-21 units," said McDonald. "We've proven that we can effectively provide maintenance at home station and now have the opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities in a deployed location."

"Demonstrating our deployed capability is absolutely essential. However, I would not directly relate it to having an impact on the future of the contract maintenance. What we know for sure is that the active duty has stopped funding for their C-21s after FY 2011, which essentially leaves the program as a Guard-owned program."

"We've sent a mix of experienced maintainers and first-time deployers, and I have complete confidence that Yankee Maintenance will be viewed as being of the highest quality, essential to mission accomplishment," McDonald said.

The mission will not be an easy task, according to McDonald. While essentially the same mission that the unit performs at home, the maintenance will be performed in less robust facilities and the location will provide certain other logistical and supply problems.

"In addition, maintaining a healthy fleet will be a challenge due to the environment. Higher temperatures, constant exposure to sand and a higher operations tempo for the aircraft will all pose challenges for our group," McDonald said.

On top of the challenges presented by the job itself, there is an additional challenge of being separated from loved ones.

"It's exciting to go, you get to miss and appreciate what you have. It keeps you with a good perspective on your life," said Staff Sgt. Jonathon Shepard, fuels systems mechanic, 103rd Maintenance Group.

"I'm pretty proud of the unit and the way that we've stepped up. There really is no war-time tasking for us right now. And everyone that is going over, both in this first rotation and for the second, are all volunteers," said Burger.

"I'm extremely proud of both the Maintenance and Operations Groups for being out front in the ongoing war against terror," said McDonald.