ROYAL AIR FORCE FAIRFORD, United Kingdom --
Total-force Airmen, key equipment and three B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, have deployed as part of Bomber Task Force Europe in support of routine operations conducted by U.S. Strategic Command.
During this deployment from the heartland of America to Lajes Field in the Azores and Royal Air Force Fairford, England, active-duty and Air National Guard Airmen assigned to the 509th and 131st Bomb Wings have demonstrated their ability to integrate with strategic partners and operate effectively at forward locations.
Behind the operation stands a team of aircraft maintainers who work around the clock to keep the B-2 fit to fly.
Second Lt. Bruce Vaugn, assistant officer in charge of the BTF Europe aircraft maintenance unit, said the ratio between active-duty and ANG Airmen is close to a 50-50 split.
“It’s seamless,” said Vaugn, who has been an aircraft maintainer for more than 18 years, first as an enlisted member and now as a commissioned officer. “Due to the cohesion and the high levels of collective experience, you would never know.”
This combined employment of manpower is a shining example of the Air Force’s Total-Force Integration initiative (TFI). TFI brings together Airmen and resources from across the active-duty, ANG and AF reserve components to maximize efficiency and mission success.
“Everyone is so skilled and we are learning so much from each other,” Vaughn said.
In his near two decades of AF experience, he has gone abroad multiple times to support the B-2 mission.
“I’ve seen how the B-2 plays such a huge strategic role for the Air Force,” Vaughn said. “We’re making history here. Experiences like these really impress upon you how important we are.”
Staff Sgt. James Tam, a communication navigation mission system technician assigned to the 131st BW, has been a maintainer at Whiteman AFB for six years. During that time he has supported two other BTF missions. Once at Diego Garcia, one of two critical U.S. bomber bases in the Asia Pacific region in 2016, and then another time at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in 2018.
“I remember my first BTF as somewhat of a challenging whirlwind,” Tam said.
He described how BTF operations bring together Airmen from a wide variety of maintenance specialties.
“At Whiteman, we are separated and focus on our main areas of expertise,” he said. “Out here though, we are just maintainers. We work so closely together, with so much overlap, that we end up learning a little bit of everything.”
Tam said seeing the rest of the picture has been invaluable and that his BTF experiences have made him a better maintainer.
“We get to see the impact of what we do in a more direct way,” Tam said.
For many, this has been the first BTF, including one 21-year-old crew chief assigned to the 509th BW.
Senior Airman Laine Terry said he is thankful for the opportunity to go on this adventure with his jet.
“Watching her land on that runway, man, it was indescribable,” Terry said, standing in front of the B-2 to which he is assigned and has committed countless hours of meticulous maintenance work. “Getting to be here, period, is amazing, but being here with my jet makes it that much better.”
Chief Master Sgt. Katie McCool, the 509th BW command chief, visited these maintenance Airmen at Lajes field to learn more about what it takes to maintain the stealth bomber and watched as they prepared two for takeoff from Lajes Field to RAF Fairford.
“Our Airmen are some of the most technically competent professionals you’ll find in the world,” said McCool, during remarks to the Portuguese media. “I’m extremely proud of their hard work and dedication.”