HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M.-- A dark runway glows dimly with small blue and orange lights during a humid evening on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, awaiting the arrival of an aircraft it has never met before. The aircraft has no passengers or pilots on board for anyone to embrace their return, yet a small group of people await at its hangar door to welcome it.
Senior Airman Paulo Diaz, 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, is among the crowd of uniformed members waiting to usher in the MQ-9 Reaper aircraft.
Diaz is a participant in Exercise Agile Combat Employment Reaper and his role is to maintain, recover and ensure MQ-9 aircraft are mission ready.
“The MQ-9 is an important asset to the U.S. Air Force and as a crew chief it feels great that I get to help in providing mission-capable aircraft,” said Diaz.
For Diaz, providing mission support also means adapting to accomplishing new tasks while conducting operations in a dissimilar environment.
“Something new that I did was refueling from the ground control station, which we usually don’t get the opportunity to do at home,” said Diaz. “Refueling from the GCS probably wouldn’t be an improvement back home but I can see how it has value in deployed locations.”
Adapting to conditions is standard for the members of Exercise ACE Reaper, and because many Airmen are learning from each other, Diaz was able to collaborate with different career fields within the MQ-9 community.
“It’s been fun to work with some awesome people that I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to work with – it provided a unique experience for me,” said Diaz. “It’s amazing to see the different aspects that go into maintaining and flying the MQ-9 to make the mission possible.”
Diaz said the exercise has helped him learn how to be more flexible with the mission and allowed him opportunities to work around difficulties he doesn’t face at Holloman.
“By not having access to all our equipment that we would have back home, it has driven us to find creative solutions and push past hurdles,” said Diaz.
After all the aircraft safely made their way back home, Diaz woke up one last day in the rainbow state to an orange sunrise while boarding a C-17 Globemaster III for a return trip back to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
“I definitely feel like I’m part of a team and it’s also cool to see the impact the U.S. Air Force has,” said Diaz. “If Exercise ACE Reaper happens again in the future I think it will be an improvement to its past iterations because of our new insight into logistics and maintenance.”