March 22, 2016 (by MSgt. Brian Lamar) - The 403rd Wing is going through a period of growth with the activation of an additional aircraft maintenance squadron solely focused on keeping the 815th Airlift Squadron's 10 C-130Js healthy and in the air.
Maintenance members with the 403rd Maintenance Group walk out to recover a WC-130J that returned from a weather reconnaissance mission into Tropical Storm Guillermo on August 5, 2015. [USAF photo by Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo]
With the approval of a new manning document, the total authorizations for positions in the unit currently being called Detachment 1, is scheduled to be approximately 145 maintenance professionals. This is roughly the same size as any other active duty C-130 squadron.
"About 55 of the new employees will be full-time Air Reserve Technicians. The rest will be traditional reservists," said Col. Jay Johnson, 403rd Maintenance Group commander.
The current existing aircraft maintenance squadron will shift their full attention to the weather reconnaissance mission of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters.
Air Force leaders came to the decision to add the new squadron to the 403rd Wing after it was determined that the 815th AS "Flying Jennies" would stay, but the active-duty association with the 345th AS had been dismantled.
"The unit was needed in the past. The active component with the 345th filled a lot of the maintenance roles before they left," said Johnson.
Once it was determined that the 10 C-130Js were staying at Keesler, differentiating the two distinct flying missions simply made sense. This new construct ensures the maintenance group can fully support both flying missions simultaneously.
Johnson believes adding the new aircraft maintenance squadron will not only help the professional development of Maintenance Airmen in the wing, but that the overall morale of the unit will also increase.
"The more experiences, the more hands, the more eyes I have on target, the better it is for the overall aircraft and success of the mission as well as the maintenance activities too. This is great news from a maintenance standpoint. We are truly going to be a hub of activity," said Johnson.
To handle the added mentoring and leadership of a larger mission, the Air Force Reserve Command has authorized a full-time Air Reserve Technician 403rd Maintenance Group deputy commander position.
Johnson believes that the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of the unit are strong and will only continue to improve.
"Anytime you have more hands doing the work, you are going to get a lot healthier fleet of aircraft. Instead of stretching your workforce thinner, we will have more technical proficiency spread across the force," said Johnson.