The End of an Era: 653rd CLSS Airmen reflect on past mission as unit prepares to close shop in 2009

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The 653rd Combat Logistics Support Squadron has traveled around the world putting Air Force birds on the mend for the past 40 years, but the team's tales of repair are coming to an end.

From Dover, Del., to the Middle East, the unit's nearly 300 men and women have shown their expertise in repairing aircraft of all makes and models, all in the name of top-notch warfighter support.

The unit, which started out at Robins as the 2955th Combat Logistics Support Squadron in December 1967 and was renamed the 653rd CLSS in October 1992, will close up shop in a multi-phase process which begins in summer 2007 and ends in 2009.

Maj. Paul Kanning, 653rd CLSS commander since June 2005, said the squadron's end comes as the Air Force restructures its approach to warfighter support under the knife of budget cuts.

"It originated with the PBD (Program Budget Decision) 720 cuts," he said. "(Air Force Materiel Command) headquarters identified each of the (combat logistics support squadrons) at each ALC (air logistics center) as areas for cuts. They took their first look and based upon workload said, 'Yes, we can definitely move some people from there.'"

Major Kanning said more specifically, Airmen in supply and transportation areas of squadrons as well as the maintenance capability would be cut by a sizable proportion.

After taking a second look at the situation, AFMC knew it needed to find another way to meet the mission, a process the major said is ongoing.

Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. hosted a Lean event this week to plan an enterprise-wide standard on how depot maintenance support will be provided to the field, Major Kanning said.

The 653rd CLSS closure will come in multiple phases.

"For our squadron specifically, the plan right now is to close in September of 2009," he said. "That begins this summer with supply and transportation. These folks will be leaving here this summer. They'll be PCSing out or moving somewhere else on base (making a permanent change of assignment)."

Major Kanning said the number of those to PCS and PCA are half and half.

Airmen PCAing could possibly become part of the Air Force Reserve Command, the 116th Logistics Readiness Squadron or the 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron, as Airmen in those fields are reapportioned, the major said.

Those who are PCSing most likely will go to Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; Langley Air Force Base, Va; and the Joint Personal Property Office in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The decision of whether to PCS or PCA an Airmen in this case is based on how long the person has been at Robins, regardless of their parent command.

Major Kanning said many individuals have already been notified about their next assignment and will PCS by Aug. 20.

The unit's complete closure includes reducing the number of maintenance teams in the squadron little by little through summer 2009, the major said.

The change comes as the Air Force works to reinvest its funds in new weapons systems, Major Kanning said.

While the 653rd CLSS commander knows what's at the heart of the decision, he said it doesn't change the difficulty of the matter.

"It's a difficult position to be in, no doubt about it," he said. "The decision to cut the squadron is not a desirable one, but it's necessary based on the environment today."

Necessary or not, 653rd CLSS members are already feeling the absence of their fellow white knights and the possibility of future missions.

Master Sgt. Ceasar Blye, supply element noncommissioned officer in the 653rd CLSS who has called the squadron his family since 1999, said he will miss the friends he has made on his job.

The 44-year-old South Carolina native said from the East Coast to the West Coast and far across the sea, he has met many challenges with his mission of aircraft repair.

"I think my most challenging mission has been a deployment to the AOR (area of responsibility) in 2006 when we actually went on a joint operation with the Army," he said. "We had to go through combat training in Colorado and from there, we went over to the AOR."

The white knight and his team have made positive changes in the deployed location. One temporary duty assignment to the Middle East led to a distribution center where Airmen could obtain chemical warfare gear in theater instead of having to carry such equipment to the field.

Sergeant Blye has enjoyed traveling and getting his hands in a variety of jobs since taking up with the squadron.

Master Sgt. Stephen Reeves, 653rd CLSS C-130 maintenance production superintendent, who has been in the unit for five years, said he'll miss always being on the go.

"I love it," he said. "That's one of the reasons I came to this squadron. Prior to 2005, we were literally hand picked to come here and you were working, no kidding, with the best of the best maintainers around you."

It's that professionalism that has set the 653rd CLSS members apart in their careers.

Knowing that fact makes the squadron's cut that much harder for Major Kanning.

"It's going to be tough because we do have a bunch of great people who are on-call, ready to go at any time," he said. "But that's the environment we're in. These are the cards that we are dealt in the Air Force and we have to figure out a way to play the game with those cards."