Fleet Readiness Center East team meets maintenance needs in dual deployments

F-35B Lightning II mechanics with the F-35 Rapid Response Team at Fleet Readiness Center East and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, remove a tail from the aircraft aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island March 18. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick Crosley)

CHERRY POINT — Aircraft maintenance professionals with Fleet Readiness Center East’s F-35 Rapid Response Team play a critical role in keeping the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II fleet healthy. 

The RRT recently conducted simultaneous deployments to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and aboard the USS Makin Island, in the Arabian Sea. RRT maintainers inspected and repaired 12 F-35B aircraft, all in under 40 days – including travel, precautionary restriction of movement and workdays.

“The F-35 Rapid Response Team is a strategic asset within our Navy-Marine Corps team, and I couldn’t be more proud of the drive and dedication these individuals display with every mission,” FRC East Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Nieto said. “They’re ready to pack up and ship out to anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice and, when they arrive, they get to work and stay on task until the job is done. The RRT plays a vital role in aviation readiness, and you won’t find a finer crew of maintainers anywhere in the armed forces.”

The RRT consists of expert artisans cross-trained in multiple maintenance trades. Having team members with multiple skill sets allows for a flexible configuration, which means the team can pick and choose which artisans to deploy to a mission based on the technical requirements.

The RRT arrives on-site with skill sets and tools that aren’t normally required for repairs at the squadron level or on a ship, said Maj. Randy Brazile, F-35B Detachment maintenance officer for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard the Makin Island.

“The FRCE RRT was called to the USS Makin Island to execute repairs to the 15th MEU’s F-35s, with specialized tools that are not resident in a fleet F-35 squadron,” he said. “They are very experienced artisans and possess qualifications that are not frequently required by operational squadrons. This combination of qualifications, tooling, and the ability to rapidly deploy worldwide provides a valuable resource to the fleet forces when specialized repairs are required.”

The team arrived quickly and showed up ready to perform and share their knowledge with the Marines aboard the Makin Island, Mr. Brazile added. Having the repairs conducted on site, rather than having to send the aircraft to intermediate- or depot-level facilities, helps reduce downtime for the aircraft and get them back in the air as quickly as possible.

“The ability of the RRT to execute repairs on ship allowed the 15th MEU and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group to continue operations while the aircraft repairs were ongoing,” he said. “The 15th MEU F-35s continued flying combat sorties in support of the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility simultaneously to the RRT repairs.

“Overall, this was an excellent demonstration of the Naval Aviation Enterprise reacting to unexpected maintenance requirements while maintaining operational capability for the combatant commander,” he concluded.

Ike Rettenmair, F-35 branch head at FRC East, said the RRT provides a strategic capability in supporting F-35B readiness throughout the Marine Corps; however, the team doesn’t work alone. The F-35 Fleet Support Team provides critical support to the RRT. This team includes engineering, logistics and program management across government and contractor agencies.

Matthew Crisp, F-35 Joint Program Office site lead at FRC East, said experience from previous missions has given the RRT a firm foundation to build upon, and that know-how paid dividends with these deployments. 

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