Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers
Wilbur Wright once said, “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.” For a small group of Coast Guard aviators from across the country, the 2011 AMT Society Maintenance Skills Competition gave them the opportunity to test theirs.
This year marked only the second time a team of Coast Guard members took part in the annual competition, held in Las Vegas.
“I’m proud of what we do. The Coast Guard is small and aviation is only a part of what we do, but we’re proud of how well we do it,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Rich Schultz, the Rating Force Master Chief for aviation maintenance technicians.
The weeklong competition featured 12 different stations to test mechanics knowledge in areas such as electrical troubleshooting, flight control rigging, advanced composite materials repair and safety wiring. It also featured commercial airline teams from Mexico and Australia as well as U.S. military teams from the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy.
Aside from their mechanical prowess, Team Coast Guard stood out as the only team comprised of members who had never met prior to the competition.
“I had one guy come up and say he thought it was a great idea to select members from all over the country. He said they took the best from their base and they’ve been training together for months for this competition,” noted Schultz. “It’s unbelievable. It’s a great statement for the Coast Guard and the aviation standardization program that we are able to do this.”
Not only were the Coast Guard mechanics from different units, they also worked on different airframes.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Deitsch repairs MH-65 Dolphin helicopters at Air Station Atlantic City; Petty Officer 2nd Class Matt Youngs cranks wrenches on HC-130 Hercules aircraft out of Kodiak; Petty Officer 1st Class Frank Fontanez works on the HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft in Mobile, Ala.; while Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Ford, the lone avionics electrical technician of the group, chases wires on the MH-65 Dolphin helicopters in Traverse City, Mich.
“I feel really, really good about it. With the Air Force, they have guys from the same unit. Then they see us from different units and who fly on different aircraft … I feel proud,” said Fontanez.
The impact of the aviation standardization program was something that members of Team Coast Guard noted as being vital to their ability to compete in such a competition.
“It just shows that in the Coast Guard, you can plug any team together and we’re going to get the job done,” said Youngs, the only returning member from previous year’s team. “It blows the other team’s mind. They’re like ‘wow, you guys just met?’”
While the competition may seem to outsiders like a good excuse to spend a week in Las Vegas, the overall benefit to this group of aviators cannot be measured in buffet trips and neon lights.
“I definitely have more experience now,” said Deitsch. “The whole studying process to prepare for this, just makes you more knowledgeable. Some of this stuff we rarely do.”
While the team members never had a chance to get together and train for these events, each Coastie took it upon themselves to dive into the manuals.
“I get to come here and compete, but at the same time I’m spending a lot of time in the books during the build-up, which helps me overall. I got into the manuals a lot. I re-familiarized myself with all the steps and regulations,” said Youngs.
The passion that these four individuals demonstrated in preparing for this competition is actually part of the reason they were selected to compete. Deitsch, Youngs and Ford were finalists for the Oliver Berry Award, an annual award given to an aviator that through innovation brought forth an idea or process that benefited Coast Guard aviation as a whole. This year’s recipient, Fontanez, played a vital role in the mechanical understanding of the Ocean Sentry aircraft.
While Team Coast Guard finished the competition just off the podium, an undaunted Schultz provided a dose of reality. “You can go home tonight and watch television and you’ll see a rescue done by the Coast Guard. You have to feel proud about that, even if you weren’t involved in the search or anything, you’ll still feel proud.”