JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
On a cool, bright spring afternoon, an Airman opens the door to his assigned aircraft and hops aboard. As he and his team walk about the KC-135R before a scheduled takeoff, he inspects the aircraft’s systems and structure for mission readiness.
‘He’ is the lead crew chief, and according to his checklist, his plane is ready to perform.
Following the “preflight” inspection, the pilot meets on the flight line for a “walk-around”, or examination, to determine if she will “accept” the plane for flight.
As she checks the tanker, both inside and out, she pats the side of the plane with a smile of approval and accepts. His aircraft has been chosen for the mission.
While preflight checks are more commonly known, Master Sgt. Steven Wescott, a lead crew chief of the 108th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, here, for over 37 years, says that their responsibilities include “afterflight” inspection, refueling, defueling, maintenance, and flying missions.
Now retired, he describes his motivation to remain in the hands-on career field, as passion—passion for the work he did and the people he worked alongside.
“I love and care about what I do—maintaining for the unit,” said Wescott. “We are a family.”
Equally, Wescott is highly regarded around the wing.
“My wife calls me the ‘mayor’,” jokes Wescott. “I would take the time to stop and talk with everyone, [in my section and in others]—build a relationship—so I knew if they had a family, kids, a spouse. When I was deployed, people from the wing, including the first sergeant, would call up my wife to check on her and my wife called their families when [they] were away. I had a good working relationship with everybody.”
Nonetheless, according to his team, both new and long-standing, what stood out most was Wescott’s role as, “the go-to guy, good teacher, and mentor”.
This is because, in addition, to the care and patience he showed his fellow crew members, he became a stand-out for his exceptional work and dedication to countless missions.
“He’s worked on the majority of aircrafts assigned to the 108th—F4, KC-135E, KC-135R,” cites Maj. Dominoe Strong, commander, 108th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, about the New Jersey native. “He has deployed 11 times to places such as, Guam and CENTCOM and for Operations starting with Desert Storm until Freedom Sentinel. He supported all hurricane state active duty missions for the past two decades, including Katrina, Sandy, Irene, and Irma.”
In tech school, Wescott was an honor grad and received the prestigious John L. Levitow award for his leadership and academic excellence in Airman Leadership School, recalled Wescott.
As lead flying crew chief of 18 air evacuation missions from Bagram to Landstuhl, Germany, Wescott says these were some of his most proud moments.
“Never settle for anything less than your best,” said Wescott. “I enjoy helping people. I saw a need.”
Of Wescott’s many examples demonstrating the Air Force core values, the one that stood out the most was his willingness to voluntarily repair the limited headsets for his unit.
“Without being asked to, he took on hand-repairing the David Clark headsets for operators and maintainers, for the past 20 years, as opposed to the wing having to spend thousands of dollars replacing them,” said Strong.
Wescott said, he taught himself how to fix the costly devices. He would maintain working headsets and salvage parts from unrepairable ones to recover others.
“Of 12, I could recover at least eight,” said Wescott. “I knew my guys needed them for their job.” Such an efficient and sanitary measure allowed each member to possess a headset on all missions, as well as, allowed leadership, each fiscal year, to focus the unit’s funding on other needs.
While he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1984, he became a New Jersey Air National Guardsman in 1987.
“I knew being back in New Jersey was better for my family,” said Wescott. “I could serve my country and be close to home.”
Now a retiree, he is still a proud, lifelong member of the “tanker community”, a worldwide community of strong bonds he has created through nearly four decades of service.
Yet, with his renewed sense of freedom, he plans to finally complete a few home projects, said Wescott, be of help to his family and friends when needed, and “when things are over with COVID-19,” he hopes to take his wife to the many places he visited while on his journey.
“There are some places he can leave out—definitely not the desert!” jokes Cindy Wescott, Wescott’s wife. “But he’s always made the best out of all experiences. He’s very positive.”