Growing up with maintainers

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Micah Poulson
  • 912th Air Refueling Squadron

Being a Quality Assurance evaluator was going to be a difficult job. I would be working with the squadron’s best maintainers, who specialize in aircraft knowledge, technical orders, and inspections. Although I had a long way to go as a maintenance officer, my group commander, a grumpy but effective leader, decided to give me a chance.


Prior to becoming a QA evaluator, I had a year of experience briefing aircraft status in meetings, a minute amount of time on the flight line, and a challenging experience as an executive officer. More than once, my supervisor caught me in staff meetings just before my eyes glazed over completely. My eyelids marching aggressively across my pupils ready to vanquish what was left of my attention span. Yet, just before victory I caught the commander’s terrifying gaze and I was awake again.


Adding to my work challenges, I struggled to balance studying for an entrance exam to graduate school, taking masters classes, and teaching Sexual Assault Prevention and Response classes. Add to that a variety of legal and personal issues and I was an overwhelmed lieutenant.


Turning the page, I focused on my new line of work. It was my job to inspect maintenance Airmen to make sure they perform their work safely and by the book. Consequently, to be in quality assurance, I have to have a strong record of safe, effective maintenance and a clean record off the flightline. In my new position, I review evaluator’s findings and subsequently brief leadership on those findings, which may include technical data violations or unsafe practices recently discovered. As a result, new standards set by group commanders or my major command, Air Force Special Operations Command, are then implemented daily by my Airmen, and I get to watch that happen. Their teamwork and adherence to the Air Force’s core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do is amazing.


While working in Quality Assurance, I listened to the maintainers’ stories of working through rain and snow. They told me about working in 100-degree heat, about taking multiple deployments in a year. They told me, about nights they were so tired they just went home and slept until they were back up again in the morning. They talked about their war experiences: mortars landing near their work stations, volunteering to help the wounded, and getting shot as they were locating a broken jet.


Due to my experience as a QA evaluator working with these Airmen, I have been able to put my frustrations and disappointments into perspective. In the past, I hadn’t balanced my work and my other responsibilities well. I had prioritized my personal goals over maintenance, which led to me being overwhelmed. Thus, when pushed to put my work ahead of my personal goals, I became annoyed and responded with sarcasm and thinly-veiled frustration.


Those maintainers, whose work I inspected, taught me to not only consistently do my best, but put my team first, and ask for help when I didn’t know what to do. Unknowingly, they mentored me and I grew up. I am forever grateful to them for steering this wayward lieutenant onto the right track.