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NEWS | June 2, 2010

373 TRS readies international aircrew for flight

By 2nd Lt. Susan Carlson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

If you have recently seen someone in an unusual uniform around Joint Base Charleston, you may have run into one of the 12 Royal Australian Air Force Aircraftsmen deployed 10,000 miles from home and working for three months straight.

What brings the Australians halfway around the world to Charleston? Training - U.S. Air Force style.

The United States mandates any country purchasing C-17s to send their aircrews to this three month training - double the length of a typical maintenance technical school and much more in depth.

Joint Base Charleston, along with McChord Air Force Base in Washington, train foreign nationals from countries that are either buying the C-17 or have some future endeavor working on or with the aircraft, said Tech. Sgt. Bryan Doughty, a training instructor with the 373rd Training Squadron, Detachment 5.

In the case of the Australians, a number of aircrew are sent by the Royal Australian Air Force a few times a year and are trained to work on every system in the C-17, said Sergeant Doughty.

Unlike aircraft maintenance Airmen in the U.S. Air Force, the RAAF Aircraftsmen must be able to work on every part of the aircraft except the electrical.

"This is very, very good training, but we are trying to come to grips with a little bit of it - only because unlike the USAF, we don't specialize in particular systems, we do it all," said Sgt. Glenn King, one of the Australian aircrew members deployed to JB CHS. "Anything that isn't electrical, we look after it."

Before their journey to the United States, the Australians were given a short pre-training familiarization package in their country. The brief pre-training covers the basics of aircraft maintenance and safety, whereas the greater part of actual hands-on training is done here at JB CHS and at McChord AFB, said Sergeant King.

"We have some training areas up and running in Australia, but majority is here. The indoor training facility is a much safer environment," said Sgt. Craig Fenton, another Australian aircrew member. "You don't have to worry about anyone standing around the plane."

For some of the Aircraftsmen, the C-17 is the first aircraft they have ever worked on, while others, such as Sergeant King and Sergeant Fenton, have been in the RAAF for a number of years working on older airframes. When attending this course however, they all start at ground zero.

The current class students are just beginning their fourth week of training, and will be returning home to their families July 23. Upon their return, most will be going back to their respective teams working on the four C-17s the Australian military owns. These aircraft were purchased by the Australian government approximately four years ago, and are a part of the global C-17 scheme used for airlift in support of joint operations, said Sergeant King.

Before this purchase, the Royal Australian Air Force used C-130s and DCH-4 Caribous, which have since been retired after 45 years of active - duty service, Sergeant King said.

During their three months here, the Australians are taking weekend trips to see much of what the United States has to offer. To date, they have visited the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., seen the NASCAR races in Charlotte, N.C., the Statue of Liberty in New York City and the site of the shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral, Fl.

"We're trying to work out agendas for every weekend, aren't we boys?" Sergeant King said, asking his fellow Australian Aircraftsmen in that well known Aussie accent.

Sergeant King and his "mates" are taking every opportunity to see as much of the United States as possible during their long tour, but don't let that fool you, as evident, they are working just as hard during the week as they are playing on the weekends.