JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Keeping aircraft flying is critical to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson mission – but it isn't as simple as a pilot getting into a plane. There is a great deal of maintenance, and scheduling that maintenance and making sure it is top-notch is no easy task; hundreds of Airmen work daily to make it happen.
One of those Airmen is Tech. Sgt. Kelsy Lightner of the 3rd Maintenance Operations Group, who is one of two inspectors in his specialty in Pacific Air Forces.
He does plans and scheduling, analysis, maintenance operations, and training, said Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Morse, the chief quality assurance inspector at the 3rd MXO.
“He was just my go-to guy,” Morse said of Lightner. “Any data I needed, he was on it. I gave him the criteria and my goals for the end product, and he ran with it, and has amazed me ever since.”
Lightner headed up a fall-protection working group for the 3rd Wing, aligning Air Force fall-prevention standards with national Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, Morse said. He recently received a medal for rendering aid to a badly injured cyclist on the Kenai Peninsula, providing care until first responders arrived.
“He's an example,” Morse said. “He's the quiet guy who gets stuff done; that's his leadership style. He uses his intellect and he commands his peers just through the way he approaches things.”
Lightner is flexible in his work; before working with the QA team, he was a maintenance scheduler, and his skill in that field meant the section recently needed him back, said Master Sgt. Tieron Riley.
The maintainers at JBER use two computer systems for scheduling; in theory, the systems talk to each other, but in practice it often takes a bit of work to make that happen.
“The systems create 'rejects' if there's a conflict in the data, and you have to go in and figure out why something is rejected,” Riley said. “It's like a puzzle to him, and he just does it.
“I can come in and say 'Hey, I need you to look into this,' and he does and then some. He's seeing the bigger picture, he's looking down the road and looking to be a better NCO, no matter what the task is.”
Despite the variety of duties he's called on to perform, Lightner said he enjoys his job and the people he works with.
“I find it challenging but fulfilling,” Lightner said. “The amount of tasks we have to track for the aircraft – there are more than 20,000 individual items for the F-22's scheduled maintenance and parts across the whole fleet. It's challenging, and you have to have a solid team behind you that can take the initiative.
“It's being able to lead individuals and see the big picture, which is getting the aircraft off the ground. It's sometimes challenging to get everyone going the same direction, but it's absolutely a job where you have to rely on your team and trust the Airmen beside you. Everyone has their own little piece. No two people do the same job; you rely on other individuals to bring the pieces, and put them together."
One of the junior NCOs Lightner works with is Staff Sgt. Darian Robbins.
“He's a great mentor, and helps me out a lot,” Robbins said. “I'm new to our base, and new to the F-22. He's my go-to person, and very easy to talk to. He encourages professional development, encourages me to study and always asks if I'm doing it so I can test this year.”
Robbins also noted Lightner's passion for spicy food and growing chili peppers as a way of building bonds with other Airmen when he's not busy with all his other tasks.
“I really like hot stuff – like growing reaper peppers,” Lightner said. “I've got the rest of the office eating spicy food. It's fun getting people to try new things, get morale going, and see people sweat and laugh.”
Still, he ensures the job gets done, Robbins said.
“The younger Airmen can get overwhelmed, he notices and reminds them why we do what we do, which helps the junior Airmen as well as NCOs.”
Ultimately, it's all about making the mission happen, Lightner said.
“Ensuring the safety of pilots is rewarding – and knowing that at the end of the day, we accomplished the Alaska NORAD mission.”