By Tech. Sgt. Kyle King, 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 17, 2020
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mark Willette, 439th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s production superintendent, stands next to his truck August 21, 2020, at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts. Willette started working at Westover 30 years ago after serving four years on active duty. (Courtesy photo)
For the past 30 years, one could find U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mark Willette on Westover’s flightline performing maintenance on the C-5 airframe.
Now serving as the 439th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s production superintendent, Willette is responsible for the overall flight line maintenance effort for the C-5M Super Galaxy.
“It is a very high maintenance aircraft,” says Willette. “We follow algorithms trying to predict what’s going to break before it breaks.”
His Air Force reserve career at Westover began 30 years ago after serving four years on active duty.
He remembers in-processing on his first UTA, August 2, 1990 - the day Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, starting the Gulf War. A few months later, Willette was activated as the 439th Military Airlift Wing became one of the busiest airfields in the world supporting Operation Desert Storm.
He has been an air reserve technician since August 1994.
“Things were very different for ARTs back then,” Willette said. “You could see the ARTs in civilian clothes, growing beards, wearing shorts. In the 2000s, things changed. ARTs had to wear uniforms and PT tests got stricter.”
His career is marked with many milestones. In 2002, he deployed as a crew chief to Moron Air Base, Spain in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 99% of what was then known as the 439th Aircraft Generation Squadron, deployed for 100-day tours, to either Spain, Qatar or Germany.
Willette said the hardest he ever worked was during an Air Force-wide C-5 surge in February 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. At that time, the Air Force designated Westover as the C-5 maintenance hub for all missions going to and from Europe.
“We had more planes than we had places to park them,” he said. “We were working 12-hour plus shifts for 100 days.”
He has worked on the flight line his entire career, but now serves in a supervisory role planning all maintenance efforts.
“The technicians are the ones getting the work done,” Willette said. “They are the ones who deserve the credit. I just get them going in the right direction.”
Willette plans to retire in 2023, marking the end of his 37-year career.