First All-Guard B-2 Maintenance Team Supports Weapons School Ops
By Capt. Jeffrey M. Bishop, APR, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 20, 2014
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri -- In a year marked with a number of milestones and firsts for the 131st Bomb Wing, a team from the 131st Maintenance Group recently added another by being the first all-Air National Guard B-2 maintenance team to support deployed operations for the jet.
Twenty B-2 aircraft maintenance Citizen Airmen deployed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in mid-June to support B-2 operations as part of the final integration phase of the five-month U.S. Air Force Weapons School program.
"We were essentially operating at three locations. If the Guard hadn't been there, we wouldn't have been able to do this," said Lt. Col. Michael Walters, 325th Weapons Squadron commander here. Taskings to support B-2 operations at Whiteman and at Nellis, along with a deployment of two B-2s to Royal Air Force Fairford, England, had strained maintenance resources.
Although the opportunity to support off-station operations with an all-Guard maintenance roster was born from necessity, long-standing total force integration paved the way for success, according to Capt. Chad Larson, 131st Maintenance Squadron commander and maintenance team lead for the deployment.
"About 20 percent of the (B-2 maintainer) lines are filled with Guardsmen. It's always been about Team Whiteman whenever we deploy," he said. "It was a first, but there was never any doubt that we could, because we've always done it hand-in-hand with our active duty counterparts."
Excellent communications between the active duty and Guard components is a key strength of the relationship that is essential for success, especially when drill-status Guardsmen must be provided orders so that their employers can release them to deploy. This was the case for a quarter of the 20 maintainers deployed to Nellis, Larson said.
"Working as a team with the 509th (Bomb Wing), they understand that we can do almost anything with enough notice, and they do an outstanding job of communicating requirements with us so that we can effectively use our resources to support the B-2 total force mission," he said. "It's all about Team Whiteman."
The level of experience and expertise of the 131st's maintainers gave leadership the confidence to task them, according to Walters.
"You don't build a quality maintainer overnight," said Walters. "The Guard has the unique ability to build deep quality and quantity of 5- and 7-levels; both production maintainers and supervisors. Through our use of the total force initiative concept at Whiteman, we've established that level of expertise, the experience level, the skill set to do this."
In addition to the support provided by the maintainers, pilots from the 110th Bomb Squadron, Majors Luke Jayne, Timothy Sullivan and Jeremy Simmons, were equally instrumental to INT success, according to Maj. Tim Rezac, squadron director of operations.
"They flew key sorties that helped produce the next generation of critically needed weapons officers," he said, adding that the Citizen Airmen also provided continuity, mission planning, experience and supervision to the two-week exercise.
"There have been a number of important steps that the Guard has taken along the way that led up to this deployment, starting with establishing initial operational capability all the way up to full operational capability," said Maj. Michael Belardo, a full-time Guardsman and B-2 instructor pilot detailed to the 325th. "This was just another step along the way to show that not only can the Air National Guard do it, but that it can do it well."
Whiteman's 325th is a geographically separated unit of the USAFWS, and is responsible for all B-2 training operations in support of the graduate-level program. Typically, each of the two USAFWS classes held annually includes only two or three B-2 pilots. The graduate-level curriculum generates a small pool of highly qualified tacticians who bring their new expertise back to the other pilots in their squadrons here after graduation. Whiteman graduates of USAFWS class 14A were Captains Marcus Antonini, 393rd Bomb Squadron and Justin Meyer, 13th Bomb Squadron.
The all-Guard maintainers also helped the 325th reach a new milestone for B-2 availability during the INT phase of the USAFWS program.
"This is the first time in the 10-plus years of our squadron that we haven't lost a student line due to maintenance," said Walters.
While Guard maintainers successfully supported B-2 operations in three locations, they also deployed to a fourth: the group sent more than 100 maintainers to Air National Guard Camp Clark in Nevada, Missouri, to train for state emergency duty during the wing's Annual Training week, which coincided with the deployments.
"It was a dynamic time, but it reflected a potential reality we might face one day: to support home station and deployed B-2 operations, while also helping our friends and family respond to a natural disaster in Missouri," said Col. Kimbra Sterr, 131st MXG commander. "This is exactly what we train for."