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Wing AMUs keep the Falcon soaring

Established as the 313th Bombardment Squadron during World War II, the 13th Fighter Squadron pioneered the Wild Weasel mission during the Vietnam War. In 1972, the 13 FS adopted a black Asian leopard named Eldridge and became known as the “Panther Pack.” On June 1, 1985, the squadron activated at Misawa Air Base flying for the 432nd and 35th Operations Group. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

Established as the 313th Bombardment Squadron during World War II, the 13th Fighter Squadron pioneered the Wild Weasel mission during the Vietnam War. In 1972, the 13 FS adopted a black Asian leopard named Eldridge and became known as the “Panther Pack.” On June 1, 1985, the squadron activated at Misawa Air Base flying for the 432nd and 35th Operations Group. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force approved the 14th Fighter Squadron “Fighting Samurai” emblem on January 7, 1993. The Air Force assigned the squadron under the 35th Fighter Wing, 35th Operations Group on October 1, 1994. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force approved the 14th Fighter Squadron “Fighting Samurai” emblem on January 7, 1993. The Air Force assigned the squadron under the 35th Fighter Wing, 35th Operations Group on October 1, 1994. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- For more than 17 years, the 35th Fighter Wing has depended on the 13th and 14th Aircraft Maintenance Units to ensure the wing's mission happens every day. The AMUs are responsible for flightline maintenance and delivering safe and reliable aircrafts to the pilots.

"The mission begins and ends right here on the flightline," said Capt. William Westendorf, 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. "We're the ones who keep the jets in the air."

Aircraft maintenance is an ongoing process; there is no real beginning and end. However, if there is an issue with an aircraft in-flight, the pilot will report these issues to the 13th and 14th Fighter Squadron operation desk's top three. The top three will then relay the issue to the aircraft maintenance production superintendent. Once the production superintendent is aware of what the aircraft' s discrepancy is, their job is to inform the appropriate expeditor, whether it's the flightline, specialists or weapons. Expeditors supervise the different maintenance specialties required to fix whatever issue the aircraft may have. The expeditor for the reported problem will then assign trained Airmen to fix the issue and return the aircraft to service.

Because the duties of an AMU member are so important, the expectations of them are very high.

Regardless of rank or experience, aircraft maintainers are trusted to be professionals, to follow their technical orders at all times and be motivated to do their best.

"AMU members are expected to be the best aircraft maintainers, thoroughly knowledgeable on their specific career fields all the while maintaining the safest and most reliable weapons system," said Lt. Col. David Ruth, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander.

If AMU's maintainers do not do their jobs, then the pilots do not get trained. Therefore, it can be difficult to make the wing's mission happen, said Westendorf.

"If we screw up, if we don't go by the book, a plane could crash and someone could get hurt," said Westendorf.

The stress of these expectations coupled with the long shifts and austere environment, whether it is 135 degrees out in the desert of Southeast Asia or zero degrees in Misawa, can be taxing both physically and mentally, Westendorf said.

However, AMU members have pride in what they do. They have pride in knowing that each day, AMUs are making the mission happen, said Westendorf.

"Even though they work hard and they might seem down, there's still that sense of pride there, a moment when they say, 'Hey, I made it happen today,'" said Westendorf.