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Civilian maintainers: an integral part of AF mission

Jackie Ehrhart, M1 Support Services T-1A Jayhawk mechanic, inspects a horizontal stabilizer on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-1A is a medium-range, twin-engine jet trainer used in the advanced phase of specialized undergraduate pilot training for students selected to fly airlift or tanker aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Jackie Ehrhart, M1 Support Services T-1A Jayhawk mechanic, inspects a horizontal stabilizer on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-1A is a medium-range, twin-engine jet trainer used in the advanced phase of specialized undergraduate pilot training for students selected to fly airlift or tanker aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Jonathan McCoy (right) , M1 Support Services T-1A Jayhawk lead mechanic, and another M1 Support Services T-1A Jayhawk mechanic discuss the flying schedule for the T-1A Jayhawks on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. In fiscal year 2019 alone, 14th Flying Training Wing pilots flew 10,784 sorties in the T-1A Jayhawk.  (U.S. Air Force by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Jonathan McCoy (right) , M1 Support Services T-1A Jayhawk lead mechanic, and another M1 Support Services T-1A Jayhawk mechanic discuss the flying schedule for the T-1A Jayhawks on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. In fiscal year 2019 alone, 14th Flying Training Wing pilots flew 10,784 sorties in the T-1A Jayhawk. (U.S. Air Force by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Peggy Archer, M1 Support Services nondestructive inspection lead waits for a piece of an aircraft to dry after it was dipped in a fluorescent penetrant on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The fluorescent penetrant is used to detect cracks in aircraft parts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Peggy Archer, M1 Support Services nondestructive iInspection lead waits for a piece of an aircraft to dry after it was dipped in a fluorescent penetrant on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The fluorescent penetrant is used to detect cracks in aircraft parts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Peggy Archer, M1 Support Services nondestructive inspection lead, dips a piece of equipment in a fluorescent penetrant on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Nondestructive inspection specialists are responsible for employing noninvasive methods to inspect the insides of metal objects and identify possible defects in systems and equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Peggy Archer, M1 Support Services nondestructive inspection lead, dips a piece of equipment in a fluorescent penetrant on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Nondestructive inspection specialists are responsible for employing noninvasive methods to inspect the insides of metal objects and identify possible defects in systems and equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Jason Nesser, M1 Support Services fuel systems lead, inspects the fuel system of a T-6A Texan II on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Because of its excellent thrust-to-weight ratio, the T-6 can perform an initial climb of 3,100 feet (944.8 meters) per minute and can reach 18,000 feet (5,486.4 meters) in less than six minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Jason Nesser, M1 Support Services fuel systems lead, inspects the fuel system of a T-6A Texan II on Oct. 29, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Because of its excellent thrust-to-weight ratio, the T-6 can perform an initial climb of 3,100 feet (944.8 meters) per minute and can reach 18,000 feet (5,486.4 meters) in less than six minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Charlotte Lindsey, M1 Support Services T-6A Texan II maintainer, prepares to guide a T-6 for taxiing on Oct. 30, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-6 is a single-engine, two-seat primary trainer designed to train Joint Primary Pilot Training, or JPPT, students in basic flying skills common to U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Charlotte Lindsey, M1 Support Services T-6A Texan II maintainer, prepares to guide a T-6 for taxiing on Oct. 30, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-6 is a single-engine, two-seat primary trainer designed to train Joint Primary Pilot Training, or JPPT, students in basic flying skills common to U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Charlotte Lindsey, M1 Support Services T-6A Texan II maintainer, prepares the cockpit of a T-6 on Oct. 30, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-6 is fully aerobatic and features a pressurized cockpit with an anti-G system, ejection seat and an advanced avionics package with sunlight-readable liquid crystal displays. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Charlotte Lindsey, M1 Support Services T-6A Texan II maintainer, prepares the cockpit of a T-6 on Oct. 30, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-6 is fully aerobatic and features a pressurized cockpit with an anti-G system, ejection seat and an advanced avionics package with sunlight-readable liquid crystal displays. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Maintainers, military and civilian, are essential to the Air Force’s nonstop mission. Whether the mission involves providing close air support, moving personnel, pilot training or overall, dominating the skies, there are always maintainers in the background there to support.

In fiscal year 2019 alone, the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, flew 56,383 sorties in the T-6A Texan II, T-1A Jayhawk and T-38 Talon combined. Maintainers at Columbus AFB kept maintenance on 225 aircraft to make the sorties possible.

The majority of maintainers at Columbus AFB are civilian, working for M1 Support Services.

Melony Beard, M1 Support Services plans, scheduling and documentation lead, said why she thinks civilian maintainers are significant, not only for Team Blaze, but the Air Force as a whole.

“You cannot fly aircraft if you’re not keeping up with the maintenance,” Beard said. “It’s sort of like changing the oil in your car, if you miss things it’s gonna catch up with you. Our job is to track maintenance exactly the way the Air Force wants it to be done and that we’re keeping those jets going and getting the work done.”

M1 Support Services is a company that provides the bulk of aviation support services, logistics, and engineering services to name a few, all vital to the Columbus AFB mission.

Beard is one of six coordinators that conduct the work schedule for the mechanics at Columbus AFB. She also documents aircraft maintenance.

“The jets have to be healthy and you need experience,” she said. “These mechanics are here every day behind the scenes. When all of the flying has stopped, they’re still out there fixing jets and checking things to make sure the pilots are safe to go the next morning.”

Bobby Robertson, M1 Support Services T-38 Talon mechanic, said it is an honor for him to be a civilian while working as a maintainer for the Air Force.

“We help them to train the best pilots in the world,” Robertson said. “To be a part of that is something that not everyone can say.”

Robertson said there can be challenges being a mechanic, one being switching aircraft. Switching from a new aircraft to an old aircraft, or vice versa, can be especially hard for new maintainers, he said.

Overall, Robertson said the main goal of a maintainer is safety for the pilot and the equipment.

“Coming in here with a clear head and clear mind and doing my job the best I can to ensure a safe product and a happy pilot is our goal,” he said. “We’re here to help make this country the best it can be.”