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A grade "A" workforce

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Cody Dowell)

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Cody Dowell)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Altus Air Force Base is a unique place, known for its relationship with the local community, which ties in to the award-winning, completely civilian maintenance team. The team won the 2017 Aerospace Maintenance Competition this year, adding to their ever-expanding list of accomplishments.

The 97th Maintenance Group, better known as the “A-team”, brings together a variety of civilians, many of whom are prior military, doing the same job now as they did while they served. However, there are options for non-veteran job seekers as well.

The Southwest Technology Center partnered with the A-Team in 1999 to start the Grow Your Own Mechanic program. This program was developed to not only supply Altus AFB with a fresh stream of trained mechanics, but to continue to hire from the local Altus area.

The program is run by the technology center and allows students to get hands on experience with the Air Force while receiving education and certification.

After the students graduate from the airframe and power plant portion of their training they start an internship with the A-Team. The students work for eight hours a day, receiving valuable on the job training. After the training is finished, the students have the opportunity to join the A-Team as an official member.

“If I had the opportunity when I was younger, I would’ve immediately jumped on it,” said Mike Miller, a functional manager for the 97th MXG. “It’s a huge opportunity for younger people to get a chance to work with the Department of Defense. There’s a lot of people who didn’t serve or can’t, so this gives them the opportunity to be a part of the military community.”

Southwest Technology Center and Altus AFB have come together to not only help the base, but assist the community.

“The partnership between Altus AFB and SWTC is a win-win in all aspects,” Said Jill Owenby, the Marketing and Communications director for SWTC. “SWTC works diligently and in conjunction with the A-Team to ensure a local workforce is trained and certified to assist with the mission of Altus AFB.”

Becoming a member of the A-team provides benefits unmatched by the civilian sector. As a government employee, A-Team can receive a pension after 20 years of service, turning their job into a sustainable career.

“I’ve been out here for 17 years,” said Brandi Roblez, the supervisor of the personnel section assigned to the 97th MXG. “It’s my lifelong career. You have a lot of opportunity in little old Altus. I’ve done almost everything there is to do in maintenance. If you appreciate aviation and what the government can do for you, you’re going to have a great career and get a lot of opportunity.”

For some people joining a maintenance team might seem overwhelming. Some may worry about working in a military environment as a civilian, but there’s nothing to fear.

“They call Altus the big ‘A’ and we just so happen to be the A-Team,” said Roblez. “We’ve been here longer than anybody and we’re highly respected. Any Grow Your Own Mechanic is immediately accepted here and they’re definitely welcomed. We love doing what we do and I think we’re the best in the industry.”

The impact of the program is bigger than the individual and extends to the local community as well. Last year, 6.6 million dollars were allocated as payment alone to civilian workers. In a small town like Altus, that amount of money goes a long way.

The Grow Your Own Mechanic program has served as a framework for similar programs across the Air Force. As Altus AFB acquires the newest KC-46 Pegasus, a need for more well-trained mechanics will arise, pushing Altus AFB to look to the local community.