Commando Control mission gets aircraft parts to make planes whole again for warfighter

  • Published
  • By Holly Birchfield
  • 78 ABW/PA
Keeping planes on the mend is no easy feat, with an aging aircraft fleet stretching beyond their service lives to come through for the warfighter in theater.

But the 580th Aircraft Sustainment Group's Command Control Branch works feverishly to keep parts availability flowing and mission capability flying on a day-to-day basis.

Commando Control was a term coined by a general officers' steering group in 1997, the genesis of the group's start. The group was created to raise the H-53 aircraft's 36 percent mission capable rate.

Michael Smith, the 560th ASG's Commando Control Branch chief, said the staff, which has grown from four members to nine over a decade, changed its focus from how to get planes flying to how to get parts ready for the aircraft, a process that made all the difference.

Mr. Smith said the change in focus meant parts began to flow and aircraft began to get fixed.

Glenda Becham, a logistics manager and readiness spares packages manager in the 560th ASG's Commando Control Branch, said the team made a plan to put planes on the mend.

"We started get-well plans for those items that were causing us the most problems on the aircraft," she said. "We ran a top 25 list of aircraft that had readiness spares packages holes in them and we started doing get-well plans to track those items until the 'get-well' of those aircraft."

Ms. Becham said Robins' Commando Control team worked with production specialists and item managers from Robins, Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, as well as with people from their counterparts in San Antonio, Texas, and with the U.S. Navy to build get-well plans for aircraft.

"We started looking at six months as the time frame," she said. "If we could not get well in six months, then we looked at when we could get well."

Mr. Smith said the team looked at new items coming in that they could plug into plans to see when aircraft could be mission capable again and report the status to customers.

Things began looking up for the aircraft.

"By the end of 1997, we got the H-53 (mission capable) rate up to 58 percent, which was about four months after the general officer steering group disbanded," Mr. Smith said. "In 1998, the team faced a new problem, Air Force Special Operation Command readiness."

Mr. Smith said the command wasn't ready to go to war. But, it wasn't long before that changed.

"We had 28 kits that were taken to war by the command at that time," he said. "Essentially, they take that (kit) and they have to live out of it for 30 days after they deploy. About half of the RSP kits couldn't deploy, which essentially meant they couldn't go to war if they had to."

It took the group about three to four months to determine their requirements. At first glance, the remedy for the command's problem would cost a whopping $180 million. But Mr. Smith soon learned that the problem wasn't nearly as bad as he had thought.

The Commando Control team developed a plan to get the kits wartime-ready without a hefty bill, Mr. Smith said.

"In 1998, about 50 percent of the kits were ready to go to war," he said. "By the end of 1998, they were at 75 percent, and by July 1999, they were at 92 percent."

By this time, Robins' stellar performance had gained the Joint Chiefs of Staff's attention and Mr. Smith received a secure telephone unit which gave the group a direct line to get the status of parts and request the Commando Control group's action on other matters. Still, securing parts isn't always easy.

"Day to day, it's a lot of phone calls to different people, whether it be item managers, equipment specialists or engineers," said Master Sgt. Ken Kozak, superintendent of the 580th ASG's Commando Control Branch. "Sometimes if we can't get a part, we look out in all the different sources of supply. We look for lateral support from other bases. We look out in the salvage yard for the aircraft. We also look at contractors for surplus, and basically anything we can do to find those assets."

Ms. Becham said the Commando Control mission is ever-changing.

"It has been a rollercoaster," she said. "There's always something different every day. Nothing is really routine because it can change at the drop of a hat. We're looking at the warfighter. We're looking at what's going on to help them get back on track and get where they need to be."

Still, team members take pride in keeping planes flying high.

"When I see the coverage of the war on the news and see our special ops aircraft or hear of special things that are happening with our troops, I swell with pride to know that the work I am doing each day plays an overall part in helping our troops do their job and be safe at what they are doing," Ms. Becham said.