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Transferring and Translating: Munitions Airmen Break Down Barriers

Men and Women in uniform look at small F-35 parts

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ayaka Lopez, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight operations supervisor, and Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) service members inspect various parts from the JASDF F-35 Lighting II egress system at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. Airmen from the 35th MXS Munitions Flight partnered with JASDF counterparts to begin the demilitarization process for JASDF F-35 egress system components that had reached the end of their life-cycle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

Man in uniform places boxes of F-35 egress parts down onto a truck bed.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abraham Reinwand, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight stockpile management crew chief, lowers Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35 Lighting II egress system components onto a truck bed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. The 35th MXS Munitions Flight is the first team in the Air Force to complete a demilitarization process for a partner-nation’s F-35 program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

Woman in uniform inspects boxes on a truck bed.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ayaka Lopez, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight operations supervisor, conducts accountability on all Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35 Lighting II egress system components before being delivered to the munitions flight facility at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. Lopez, helped conduct the operation effectively by acting as the liaison between the munitions flight and the JASDF team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

Men in U.S. and Japanese military uniforms talk next to F-35 egress parts.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abraham Reinwand, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight stockpile management crew chief, discuss the loading and demilitarization (demil) process with a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) member at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. Once an asset is removed from the F-35 Lighting II, it becomes U.S. property again, prohibiting partner-nations like Japan to facilitate the demil process on their own. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

Men in uniform look at small F-35 egress parts.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt Justin Gibson, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight senior munitions inspector, analyzes serial numbers on Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35 Lighting II egress system components before shipping them for demilitarization (demil) at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. The demil process ensures parts are inspected, safely packaged, and shipped to another location where they’ll be repaired for re-use or destroyed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

Man in military uniform grabs ropes to secure shipment of F-35 parts.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Pedro Manzanarez, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight stockpile management crew chief, prepares to tie and secure Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35 Lighting II egress system components onto a truck bed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. With attention to detail and extreme care, the munitions flight handle, store, transport, arm and disarm weapons systems to ensure the safety and success of the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

Man in uniform moves boxes of f-35 egress parts onto a truck bed for transportation.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abraham Reinwand, a 35th MXS Munitions Flight stockpile management crew chief, moves Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35 Lighting II egress system components onto a truck bed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2021. The egress system includes items containing explosive charges that allow a pilot to safely eject in the event of an emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --

Airmen from the 35th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight partnered with their Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) 3rd Air Wing counterparts to begin the first-ever demilitarization (demil) process for JASDF F-35 Lightning II system components at Misawa AB, during April of 2021.

The F-35 program contract dictates that once an asset is removed from a fifth generation fighter aircraft it becomes U.S. property again. This means partner-nations like Japan are required to work with U.S. personnel to facilitate the F-35 demil process.

The munitions flight is well versed in the demil process for the U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon. They employed that expertise alongside JASDF personnel to reduce their stockpile of previously removed F-35 components that reached the end of their lifecycle.

“It’s pretty much the same process that we’re used to. The only difference is the specific items that we need to prepare,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Gibson, 35th MXS Munitions Flight senior munitions inspector. “If we can set a precedent for how they do this in other parts of the world that would be cool too.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ayaka Lopez, 35th MXS Munitions Flight munitions operations supervisor, who is half Japanese, acted as a coordinator and translator between the munitions flight and the JASDF team.

“My mom always pushed me to learn more of a strategic level of Japanese because she knew it would be good for my Air Force career, and she was right,” said Lopez. “My biggest struggle was trying to translate Air Force technical verbiage. I’m fluent in day-to-day Japanese, but it’s not every day that you talk about F-35s.”

Her language skills paid off, helping to build trust and efficient cooperation during the process.

 “They were very happy to know we had someone on our team that could speak Japanese,” said Lopez. “One of the JASDF team members said it was the happiest news that has happened to him all year.”

The partnership between the U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force enables us to be stronger together and bolsters the stability of the Indo-Pacific Region.