Det. 9 offers hands-on training to both military, civilian students

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • Tinker Public Affairs
One Tinker unit provides world- class aircraft maintenance training to the Department of Defense.

Detachment 9 is an Air Education and Training Command unit geographically separated from the 373rd Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

Master Sgt. Nathan Thaxton, Det. 9 detachment chief, said his unit is similar to the technical school Airmen go through but with the addition of aircraft-specific and in-depth system training.

"We instruct over 40 Community College of the Air Force accredited courses," he said.

According to Sergeant Thaxton, more than 2,000 students -- both military and civilian -- graduate from their courses each year. In fiscal 2015, they graduated 61 Mission Ready Airmen and crew chiefs for the Airborne Warning and Control System and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System platforms.

A majority of Det. 9's instructor pool is from the 552nd Air Control Wing, with six civilian instructors from Air Force Materiel Command. With 39 instructors, they are teaching over 22,000 hours of instruction to develop highly skilled, professional maintainers on four systems -- the E-3, B-1, KC-135 and B-52 -- across six major commands.

"We're very proud to have a full house of subject matter experts that can get really deep into the actual systems," said Sergeant Thaxton. "Technicians from all over the world can come here to learn the E-3, that's something you can't do anywhere else."

He added that while some may already have their 3, or 5-level certification, (the first step in technical qualification for Air Force members) they might not have ever worked on the E-3.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Aragon, a subject matter expert and instructor with Detachment 9, said coming from flight line maintenance helped him to know where the shortcomings were so they could focus their training to include those issues they struggled with on the line.

The best thing about the training with the 373rd is that while there is classroom, book instruction, they also have hands-on training.

"We've worked with the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex on the reclamation of the motors," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Hammer, production supervisor and E-3 propulsion instructor. "Some of the parts have now been donated for the purpose of training."

Sergeant Thaxton said they have a lot of great equipment to train on, including a complete E-3 engine, auxiliary power unit, landing gear, refueling booms, airborne mission computing and radar simulators.  He added that in some circumstances, nothing replaces the actual aircraft, which is why instructors utilize operational aircraft every day from the 552nd Maintenance Group.

Sergeant Aragon said hands-on training can't be beat.  "Instead of learning how to change a fuel pump by reading it in a book, you can actually change a fuel pump," he said. "That's huge."

Students also learn how to read a technical order so they can safely work on a part or system without instructor assistance. When they graduate, they are capable to go on the flight line and work with little supervision while completing their upgrade training.
Sergeant Aragon said the squadron is not only a proponent of education, but they walk the walk. Most, if not all, of the instructors continue their own education through programs or additional certifications.

"As trainers, we serve as the median between the engineers and the learners," said Sergeant Aragon. "We have to read the TO, written by engineers and then teach the ones trying to learn."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Black agreed, saying it's one thing to do the work, but another thing to teach it to someone else.

"That's really important because people's lives are in their hands when they are working on an engine," said Sergeant Hammer.