If the takeoff was a murder… hmmm?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • 388th Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt.
Col. Scott Zobrist, 388th Fighter Wing commander, and I stood on the tarmac, a stone's throw from the runaway. The hiss of a taxing F-16 broke the serenity of a crisp summer night. The aircraft just completed the final checks prior to take off: four high explosive missiles and a deadly gun system were armed. The jet is now ready to provide combat air support where ever it is called upon for America's interests. The pilot lined up on the runaway, the engine roars and soon the jet is in full afterburner. The thrust created is more than enough for the jet to takeoff into the clear, starry night. I turned to Colonel Zobrist and said: "a lot of work just took off." He most certainly agreed.

As we drove off, I began to wonder, if the takeoff was a murder, who'd be charged with such a serious crime? How long would the investigation take to determine who should be held responsible?

Does the responsibility fall on the pilot? He of course was responsible for pushing the throttle forward. Or could we hold the engine mechanic accountable? The engine worked to perfection, if it didn't work well, the jet wouldn't have taken off. So we could craft an argument that the engine mechanic was responsible for the takeoff. But hold on, the engine mechanic had an accomplice!

He was helped by the supply technician who ordered, organized, and managed the replacement parts the mechanic used to ensure the engine would function properly. But hold on, what about the weapons troop? If he didn't arm the missiles the jet wouldn't have taken off...makes no sense to provide combat air support without the things that go boom! But, the things that go boom are attached to components that must operate properly. Could we hold the back shop personnel responsible for the takeoff? They ensured the launchers were operating properly in order for the missiles to effectively mount and interface with the jet as well as to provide the pilot with the appropriate tones and indications. But hold on, there are others!

The tones and indications are useless if the pilot's helmet isn't functioning properly. Maybe we can hold our life support experts responsible for the takeoff. If they didn't do such a good job to ensure the pilot's gear was in order, the pilot most certainly couldn't have taken off. But hold on!

One of the reasons why the pilot was scheduled for this sortie was because it was verified that he was current and qualified on numerous prerequisites thanks to the work of "One Charlies." Maybe we can hold those Airmen accountable for the takeoff. But hold on!

What about the flight chiefs, the NCOs in charge, the squadron commanders, maintenance officers, the first sergeants or the production superintendents. Are they not the people who organized the work shifts or ensured the personnel have the resources to perform their job or the people who orchestrated all the numerous events that happen just for a jet to taxi? But hold on!

A large majority of the maintainers, support and ops personnel are supported by a spouse or significant other. Children are taken, errands are run, and households are kept in order all of which helps our Airmen to focus on their mission.

If this takeoff was a murder the investigation would be nearly endless. It would certainly result in the largest number of people ever held responsible for a specific act. And I hope you are like me with respect to your confession. I'd proudly take the stand and boast that I definitely had a part in the takeoff. But hold on! I'd also come clean and admit that hundreds if not thousands of accomplices helped me; from the youngest Airman to the most senior officers to the dedicated civilians. In my short time as command chief, I have been quite impressed with operations conducted by the men and women of the 388th Fighter Wing. The collective effort toward a common goal is exactly what teamwork is all about. And in my view, the teamwork is what creates the thrust for our jets to takeoff.