Establishing, maintaining, and cultivating strong relationships opens door to new opportunities

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kelsey Martinez
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

In June of 2017, the 914th Airlift Wing was re-designated the 914th Air Refueling Wing. Since then, Niagara leadership has worked endlessly to foster success in the new mission by establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with other Reserve, National Guard, and Active-duty bases. In February, members of the 914th ARW traveled to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida on annual tour for the fifth consecutive year to do just that.

“Partnering with MacDill AFB presents us with the opportunity to send our pilots, maintainers, and wing staff down south to do months’ worth of work in two to four weeks of focused training while continuing to build relationships,” said Lt. Col. Chris Pfeil, a 328th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “Due to our weather during this time of the year it takes a lot of time, funding, resources and manpower to de-ice our planes just to get them off the ground...this trip eliminates all of that.”

Annual training is a 15-day period which can allow reserve units to simulate a small-scale deployment, conduct training pertaining to specific skill sets in chosen careers, as well as network with other Air Force bases.

“We're getting a lot of training done out here with aircraft generation (launching and recovering aircraft), troubleshooting and mission generation,” said 2nd Lt. Zachary Sexton, 914th Maintenance Squadron flight commander. “Almost every single Airman that we brought down were given a list of items that they can train on and when those opportunities present themselves, they're getting signed off on those tasks.”

There are five skill levels; 1. Helper, achieved while in technical school learning the basics of the job, 2. Apprentice, received upon graduation from technical school, 3. Journeyman, after completing a period of on-the-job training and correspondence courses (CDCs), 4. Craftsman, after continued training and CDC completion, and 5. Superintendent. Each skill level is matched with an appropriate workload and responsibility to reflect the time, dedication, and training it took to get there.

“I think it's good that I went on this trip because now I know what I am missing when it comes to being able to do my job independently,” said Senior Airman Sophie Matla, 914th Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “I would definitely suggest people go on these trips because it has been a really awesome opportunity to train with people I may not generally have the chance to work with while signing off a lot of my core tasks.”

There are two components of being a maintenance crew chief; 1. Flight line crew chief, where inspections, general maintenance, and proper observation of the KC-135 Stratotanker functioning occurs, and 2. Isochronal inspection (ISO) dock, where maintainers work together to ensure necessary repairs are completed after 12- and 24-month inspections are performed to keep the jets efficiently flying.

“We often find that each unit has a slightly different approach to getting a job done,” said Sexton. “We are able to use experiences and knowledge like this back at Niagara to improve our processes and figure out where our Airmen need additional training.”

Training such as the MacDill trip provide Airmen from Niagara an opportunity to perform their jobs in different weather conditions, with different team members and work schedules to see how it can impact the ways in which they work.

“A senior airman replacing a part on an aircraft may seem like a routine activity, however, because that part is replaced the aircraft is now mission capable,” said Sexton. “That aircraft is now going to fly across the world, refuel friendly aircraft, and those aircraft are then going to go on and complete whatever mission they may be responsible for...and that all starts because an Airman came in to work and did exceptional work.”

According to Sexton, having access to available resources and proper training, leadership can ensure that each Airman is empowered to reach their full potential and continue to be an asset to the Air Force mission for years to come.

“Communicate with your leadership and make them aware of what you may be going through or need,” said Sexton. “If you're not comfortable with letting them know, reach out to the services on base; Airman and Family Readiness, the chaplain, or even Military OneSource to provide the necessary resources to help you create a balance because it can be stressful, and hard to balance all the components of being a reserve airman.”

Regardless of what the needs may be there are ample ways in which Airmen are able to receive mental, physical, emotional, and financial assistance. Learning to create a balance in all aspects of life will strengthen your ability to be a top performing airman and leader.

“I've met a lot of incredible people and I love getting to know where people come from and what they're doing with their lives,” said Matla. “I haven't known these people very long at all, but I feel like I have made my own little family which is huge for me because my family doesn’t live in Buffalo.”

Networking is a big part of being in the military given the nature of relocating to different bases, attending periods of training all over the world, and transferring units to continue advancing in your career.

“Knowing what you want to accomplish, and then finding a person that can help you get there can make all the difference because mentorship is one of the many keys to creating a successful career,” said Sexton. “Your mentor can help you find opportunities that fit your personality or your skill set so you can continue to be an asset for the Air Force over the years.”

The Air Force is only as strong as their weakest link, hence why it is crucial to make certain that each link is ready to fly, flight and win at a moment’s notice. This is something that can’t be done alone...forces must join together to share, learn, and develop with one another, from one another.

“You have to listen and tune into your people, that way you are helping them reach their goals and desires, not just what you want to see them accomplish,” said Sexton. “I find it to be most rewarding when I am able to help an Airman solve a problem, whether it's a technical issue relating to their job or even an issue at home because people are the mission and if I’m able to help my people then I have done my job.”