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Flight behind the Fight: 171st Crew Chiefs

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Tech. Sgt. Ben Smith, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, performs a function check on the lights of a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Tech. Sgt. Ben Smith, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, performs a function check on the lights of a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Brian Thomsen, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, cleans hydraulic fluid from the window in a KC-135 Stratotanker boom pod. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Brian Thomsen, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, cleans hydraulic fluid from the window in a KC-135 Stratotanker boom pod. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Tech. Sgt. Ben Smith, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, puts on the pitot covers of a KC-135 Stratotanker from 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Tech. Sgt. Ben Smith, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, puts on the pitot covers of a KC-135 Stratotanker from 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Brian Thomsen, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, props up the tail stand of a KC-135 Stratotanker following an aerial refueling over the Mediterranean Sea. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Brian Thomsen, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, props up the tail stand of a KC-135 Stratotanker following an aerial refueling over the Mediterranean Sea. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Don Baker, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, marshalls a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

WESTERN EUROPE (May 10, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Don Baker, 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, marshalls a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Currently assigned to the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing, he is a member of the maintenance group responsible for maintaining the wing's aircraft fleet. The wing supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides aerial refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault/Released)

PITTSBURGH -- No matter what day of the year it is or the weather forecast, the 171st crew chiefs are on the flightline maintaining the wing's fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. The aircraft maintenance shop is comprised of more than 100 crew chiefs that work 24/7, 365 days a year.

"We're out here working every day, including Christmas morning, which many people may not realize," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Schaub, one of four flight chiefs in the shop. Schaub is responsible for ensuring the mechanics have the proper equipment and training to complete jobs as well as assign jobs for the workday and follow up.

Compared to the maintenance specialists who concentrate on one area of the aircraft, the crew chiefs oversee the general maintenance of the entire plane which creates more challenges.

"It's a faster pace working on the flight line than in the back shops," said Schaub, "that's what I like most about it; there is never a boring day."

Schaub also knows the specialist side of maintenance because he served as the supervisor of the fuel cell for many years. Serving in many roles, he is well versed in the entire maintenance process and said, as crew chiefs, it's gratifying to see how every shop works together to get a plane off the ground.

"And that's where the rubber hits the road. You get to witness the end result of everyone's maintenance efforts firsthand," Schaub said. But there are also many other benefits to working as a crew chief.

Staff Sgt. Seth Bradley said like many other flights in the 171st, the crew chiefs are a very tight-knit group, looking out for one another both at work and at home.

"We all take care of each other; You get that camaraderie from 12 or 14 hours on the flight line together."

Bradley stressed the hazards of working on the flightline and the responsibility associated with it.

"There are a lot of things out there [flightline] that could kill you," Bradley said. "I put my trust in them and they put their trust in me. You're putting three lives on an airplane every time you go out there, so we take that very seriously."

Between deployments, stateside duty and training, crew chiefs have a lot of travel opportunities which is one reason Bradley was attracted to the career.

"We maintain the aircraft and any problems, we fly with them," he said, adding, "when an airplane goes somewhere, it needs a mechanic."