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NEWS | April 15, 2024

VNG full-time avionics team tackles high-flying challenges

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Tucked behind a blue door at the Virginia Army National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility is the organization’s avionics section. There, a small group of full-time Soldiers work to troubleshoot, diagnose and repair avionic components and wiring on a fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“It’s not black and white, you’ve got to think outside of the box,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Guerrero, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the section, about the process of identifying and correcting avionics issues. The challenging nature of the job is exactly why Guerrero and his Soldiers like it.
“Even the same problem, a lot of the time, won’t have the same fix,” said Sgt. Kyle Manes, who has worked at the AASF full-time since 2018. He and the other technicians agreed that each helicopter has its own personality, its own unique set of quirks, including one aircraft that was once struck by lightning and frequently presented “weird problems.”
“Another one, the moment you turned on the power, the blades would dance,” Guerrero said. In flight, the dancing blades would cause the aircraft to “porpoise,” or bounce like a dolphin does along the surface of the water. It was a difficult problem to solve, one that baffled the team and required extensive troubleshooting. “We took out nearly every component of that aircraft, playing around and moving wire bundles and we luckily found it. It was wiring that was chafed and was grounding itself out intermittently.”
Spc. George Scott, who joined the National Guard in 2017 and has worked full-time at the AASF since 2021, said he likes the unique opportunities and challenges that come from working there.
“We get to do a lot of cool, really neat things that are just not available to civilians,” Scott said, adding that the job also includes a lot of individual responsibility. “It really falls on the individual techs to look at a situation and assess it and think about the most effective way to solve the problem.”
The newest member of the full-time avionics team is Spc. Leonel Aviles-Mejia. He joined the Virginia Army National Guard in 2022 when he was still in high school because he wanted to be the first in his family to earn a college degree and he knew the National Guard’s education benefits would help him achieve that goal. When he first enlisted, military service wasn’t part of his long-term plan. Then, he learned more about the opportunities available to him and decided that what he really wants to do, is go to flight school so he can pilot the aircraft he’s helping to maintain. In the meantime, he’s thankful for the opportunity to learn and work at the AASF.
“What really shocked me when I got this job, being 19, was making a significant amount of money at a very young age and not having to go to college,” Aviles-Mejia said, adding that, even if his job doesn’t require it, college is still part of his plan. “I wanted something that can help me progress in my career and I always want to learn new things, so I’m grateful that I got this job.”
Many think of the National Guard as part-time, one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. But behind the scenes, all across the state, there is a robust full-time staff working in a wide variety of career fields. Most of the Soldiers at the AASF are dual-status military technicians. That means their jobs at the facility are contingent upon their service in the Virginia National Guard, and that those jobs are only available to those serving in the National Guard.
“Overall the technician program is a good opportunity for the people seeking specific skills in a trade that isn’t universal to the civilian side,” Guerrero explained. “It’s very unique and it’s really cool that we’re electricians on Black Hawks.”
The need for a full-time crew at the AASF stems from the maintenance requirements of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Routine maintenance and inspections are conducted on the aircraft in prescribed intervals based on the amount of flight hours flown or after certain amounts of time. National Guard pilots are required to fly the same number of hours as their active duty counterparts, which means the aircraft in the Virginia National Guard’s rotary wing fleet are lifting off nearly every day of the week, generating a need for a qualified and experienced fleet of technicians to maintain them.
“It’s a very challenging environment and you get to interact with so many different factors and faults on the aircraft,” Scott said. “It keeps you very intellectually engaged.”
The challenging nature of the work, the small size of their team, and the importance of what they do have forged strong bonds within the section.
“The best part is the people,” Guerrero said.
“You have to have really close relationships with the people you work with here because there’s a lot of trust involved,” Scott added. “I really enjoy the family feeling of it and there’s opportunities to be really close with your supervisor and close with the people you work with.”
To learn more about full-time employment as a dual-status military technician, or other full-time opportunities, click here.
“What I would say to high school students who don’t know what they want to do, is definitely join the National Guard,” said Aviles-Mejia. “There are so many benefits that the National Guard provides that people just don’t talk about, but if you pick a good MOS, I feel like it’s just an easy opportunity to get a career going, and this has been a nice opportunity for me, especially at a young age.”

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