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Top F-16 maintainers reap big rewards

  • Published
  • By Capt. Gabe Johnson and Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones
  • 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
When a group of 800 Guardsmen maintain a fleet 66 F-16 Fighting Falcons with an unparalleled safety record for an international training mission, there's bound to be amazing talent among the ranks.

At the latest 162nd Maintenance Group commander's call held here July 12, Group Commander Lt. Col. James Taylor recognized this talent when he announced six maintainers as "Top Performer Award" recipients; a new quarterly award designed specifically for those who improve maintenance quality and safety.

"These people take pride in getting those sorties in the air," said Colonel Taylor, during the award ceremony. "[The Quality Assurance Office] has set up some shop visits - people are excited about what they are doing, and are looking for ways to improve."

Each recipient represented one of the six organizations that make up the maintenance group and was nominated by their supervisors and commanders. The crowd erupted with applause and whistles as the Top Performers received their awards.

They were:

- Staff Sgt. Antelmo Morales from the 148th Aircraft Maintenance Flight,
- Tech. Sgt. Lesleigh Smith from the 152nd Aircraft Maintenance Flight,
- Master Sgt. Ruben Perez from the 195th Aircraft Maintenance Flight,
- Staff Sgt. Eugene Sanders from the Equipment Maintenance Flight,
- Staff Sgt. David Pazak from the Component Maintenance Flight and
- Staff Sgt. Tim Strauss from the Alert Detachment.

Each award recipient was given a certificate of recognition and a cash award.

"This award is intended to get awareness out there and increase attentiveness to doing quality work - leaner, more efficient, and with a continuous improvement process in mind," said 2nd Lt. James Barnett, a maintenance officer and award program manager from the maintenance Quality Assurance office.

"All maintenance personnel can qualify for this award - but the individual has to go above and beyond," he said. "We want to increase the quality of products and morale within the maintenance group - to recognize people for taking the extra step to produce top quality work in everything they do."

Of the six Top Performers, Colonel Taylor named Tech. Sgt. Lesleigh Smith as the "Elite Performer," an award that carries with it an additional cash award, a plaque of recognition, eight hours time off, a personal parking space for the duration of the quarter and an invitation to be a special guest at the wing commander's staff meeting.

The Elite Performer is hand picked by Colonel Taylor who weighs each nomination package for one that stands out among the six; quite a challenge when so many criterions are considered for the award which is completely separate from the wing's quarterly award program.

According to Lieutenant Barnett, the criteria for the wing's quarterly awards program is geared toward job performance, community involvement and self improvement, whereas the "Top Performer" focuses on quality maintenance practices.

"Top Performers go above and beyond to make sure what they're working on is looking really well, they are doing everything within the regulations, they're not getting safety violations or tech data violations and they're engaging with quality initiatives," he said.

The program also challenges Airmen to avoid disqualification from award eligibility. An individual can be out of contention for an unsatisfactory condition report, technical data violation, direct safety violation, or for a single failed inspection.

"We measure everything within Quality Assurance on a quarterly basis," Lieutenant Barnett said. "So even if a person is disqualified this quarter, they can still be selected the next quarter. We want to recognize maintainers who have a spotless, continuous improvement record - those that think outside of the box and go above and beyond."

As a group, 162nd maintainers generate 17,000 flying hours per year; four times the amount flown at a typical Air National Guard fighter wing.

"This is about the maintainers, the folks out there on the flightline and in the shops," said Colonel Taylor. "They have a really tough time out there in the heat and in the elements, generating the aircraft and making certain the mission is successful. This is a way to recognize those folks for their efforts." 

Master Sgt. Ruben Perez, Top Performer from the 195th Aircraft Maintenance Flight, is not pictured due to a temporary duty assignment out of town.