EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
In the five years he’s worked as an F-35A Lightning II crew chief Staff Sgt. Christopher Mashek has watched jets land on the flight line hundreds of times.
He guides pilots to their parking spots, ensures aircraft maintenance records are up to date and scans jets for needed repairs. On April 21, a routine task for him coincided with a historic moment for the 354th Fighter Wing.
Born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, Mashek enlisted in 2015 with a little influence from his older brother who is also in the Air Force.
“Growing up I really enjoyed working on cars, changing oil, rotating tires – anything that involved turning a wrench, so when I decided to join the Air Force I thought why not fix jets,” he said.
Nine months after heading off to basic military training in San Antonio, Texas, Mashek completed technical training as part of the third F-35A crew chief class in the Air Force. His first assignment was to the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Three years later he volunteered for an assignment with the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron where he participated in the F-35 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation program.
Now a member of the 356th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Mashek is part of the first group of F-35A maintainers based at Eielson and the dedicated crew chief for one of the first two F-35s to arrive in interior Alaska.
Crew chiefs oversee all maintenance on their aircraft. Whether making the repairs themselves or calling in technicians for more specific and specialized maintenance, there’s a sense of personal responsibility and ownership that comes with the job.
Mashek describes crew chiefs as a prideful group, in a positive way. If asked which aircraft is the best on the line a crew chief will always point to the one they’re working on. Mashek fits the bill sharing that same sense of pride in his work.
“It’s been an amazing experience being part of the first aircraft arrival," said Mashek. "Being able to say 'I recovered one of the first F-35s at Eielson,’ it's something me and just one other person can say we did. It's something to be proud of.”
With the first aircraft arrival complete, Mashek’s focus is now on working toward future milestones and of course, taking care of his aircraft.
“Right now I am just focusing on my jet. I am doing thorough inspections, seeing if anything needs to be fixed right away, seeing if anything can be fixed later, keeping it clean, and just getting to know how it operates," he explained. “It’s kind of cheesy but I always compare it to someone becoming a new parent, the jet is my kid and I am responsible for taking care of it.”