By Thomas Perry, Defense Contract Management Agency
/ Published March 07, 2018
FORT WORTH, Texas --
“See the World” was a popular theme among early-20th century military recruiting posters. The power of an exotic image held great weight in an offline world.
Today, with advancements in travel and America’s increased global support mission, many service members continue the adventurous traditions those posters inspired.
As pilots, Air Force Reserve officers Lt. Col. Michael Kirk and Maj. Kerry McAnally are used to seeing the world from a unique perspective, but their role as Individual Mobilization Augmentees at the Defense Contract Management Agency has raised their globe-trotter status to prolific.
Both men are government flight representatives with DCMA Lockheed Martin Fort Worth, which provides program support and worldwide delivery for the F-35 Lightning II, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-22 Raptor. Kirk and McAnally have supported deliveries of aircraft to Italy, Japan, Israel, Norway, Iraq, Pakistan, Oman, Morocco and eight military installations across the U.S.
Fort Worth’s aircraft enterprise is a colossal undertaking. It is supported by eight active duty service members — three Marines and five Airmen. They ensure aircraft delivery to the American warfighter, as well as partner nations and foreign military sales around the world. It is a mission consumed by flight hours and rewarded by knowing that global warfighters will receive high-quality aircraft.
According to Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Hutcheson, the agency’s LM Fort Worth chief of flight operations, Kirk and McAnally complement the active team and serve a mission-critical role.
“They are vital to the mission success of F-35 deliveries, which is a high-visibility activity on a global program,” said Hutcheson. “They create operational relationships with the contractor in the flight operations section of F-35 production, while providing surveillance for DCMA and Lockheed Martin flight operations. They manage and lead the delivery of F-35s to and from the Italian and Japanese (final assembly complexes), as well as to FMS and partner nations.”
Outside of the ability to fly a fighter jet, the action of delivery might seem simple to someone unfamiliar with the process, but nothing could be further from the truth.
According to Hutchinson, delivery of jets requires extensive behind-the-scenes coordination by those who fly the planes for delivery. As reservists, Kirk and McAnally are not exempt from this part of the process. The coordination process involves establishing communication with active duty and reserve units, the F-35 Joint Program Office, the F-35 country managers, in-country air attachés, U.S. embassies abroad, Air Combat Command International Affairs and Lockheed Martin overseas representatives. They also have to ensure all fuel stops, tanker options and possible emergency situations are accounted for.
“Thanks to these two Airmen, we are able to achieve a higher level of proficiency and tempo that could not be achieved without them,” Hutcheson continued. “They are force multipliers who are absolutely essential to the mission.”
Adding to their mission’s challenge, these “essential” Airmen are not always on orders and available to assist. As Reserve Citizen Airmen, both men maintain full-time jobs with major airlines. Which job is more difficult? Kirk said there are challenging aspects associated with each position.
“Managing the coordination for a $100 million aircraft to depart Fort Worth, meet up with a tanker, and fly half way across the world and all the communications that must be accomplished between the JPO, ACC, the country’s embassy and countless other organizations is time consuming,” said Kirk. “In the end, it is worthwhile when the aircraft lands at its destination.
“My civilian job has just as many challenges. I personally help manage a 500,000 pound aircraft through the skies all over the world, while ensuring the safety of over 280 passengers every time we take flight. Both jobs are rewarding in their own aspect, but I will tell you that I still love putting on my military uniform just a little bit more than I do any other uniform.”
That sentiment resonates with McAnally, who described his role at Fort Worth as “more challenging, but also more rewarding.”
“Seeing my efforts directly support the warfighter is hard to put into words,” said McAnally. “The calling to serve is something all of us respect and honor as Airmen.”
They both answer that call between 100 to 150 times more than the 24 days they are required to perform as IMAs.
“Our Reservists request approximately 100-150 days of military personnel appropriation, which is similar to a regular active duty work day,” said Air Force Capt. Mireya Ortiz, the LM Fort Worth F-35 flight operations engineer. “They perform throughout the entire year and the days they are on orders can range from two to 60 days at a time.”
IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to active-component organizations and government agencies, such as DCMA. They provide augmentation to an active-duty counterpart. IMAs are part of the Individual Reserve program, managed by the Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado. More information is available at www.arpc.afrc.af.mil/HQRIO/.
The dual-role pilots spend some of those days fine-tuning their coordination and communication efforts.
“There are so many moving parts, and making sure that everyone is on the same page is the key to making sure the delivery goes off without a hitch,” said Kirk. “So, yes, communication by both voice and email are the key points to mission success. The most important step to me is making sure the pilots who are going to ferry the aircraft arrive in Fort Worth with plenty of time to rest and enjoy their day or so in Fort Worth before they depart to fly a nine-hour mission.”
McAnally said, “The relationships with the contractor and member nations are my biggest challenges. Weighing DCMA’s and the U.S. government’s interest as it pertains to my role in overseeing the building, production and delivery of the F-35. Communication and planning are very important to the success of that mission. With the diverse, fluid environment we work in, we are constantly developing new and different techniques and ways to be successful in our mission.”
According to Ortiz, the pair have found great success within their support role.
“Both Lt. Col. Kirk and Maj. McAnally were recognized this year for going above and beyond in their jobs,” said Ortiz. “In 2017, they were awarded Reserve GFR of the Year and Reserve Field Grade Officer of the Year for the Central Region, and they are now competing at the agency level.”
Because of their civilian lives and commitments, the two pilots are not always present at the DCMA LM Fort Worth facility, but their impact on mission accomplishment is ever-present.
“We might not see them as frequently, but they are a welcome sight because of the workload relief and expertise that they provide to us on a daily basis,” said Hutcheson. “These men are permanent members of our Aviation Program Team. They attend the same GFR training that our active duty pilots attend and, thus, we have a vested interest to keep them here.”