Coast Guardsman recognized as Aerospace Control Alert Maintainer of the Year
By Petty Officer 1st Class Tara Molle, U.S. Coast Guard District 5
/ Published September 02, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES --
You’ve seen the bright orange helicopters speeding to a scene to rescue those in peril, gunning outboard motors on go-fast boats during counter narcotic missions or thwarting potential threats in secure air spaces. In a typical year, the Coast Guard responds to 20,000 search-and-rescue cases and save more than 3,500 lives. Search and rescue, saving lives, protecting the home front whether on land, sea or air – these are just some of the core missions the brave men and women of the Coast Guard carry out every single day.
However, most if not all of these critical missions would not take place if it wasn’t for the highly trained maintenance aircrews diligently working behind the scenes ensuring the safety of those before they even take to the air.
For Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Anton, an avionics electrical technician at the Coast Guard’s National Capital Region Air Defense Facility, this maintenance can mean the difference between life and death.
“Proper maintenance on the ground is so incredibly important,” said Anton. “When you’re flying, there’s a million spinning objects in the air waiting to kill you.”
With a mindset like that it’s no wonder why Anton was recently recognized as Aerospace Control Alert Maintainer of the Year for the Continental U.S. NORAD Region. He was selected from among 42 Air Force, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, and Canadian Air Force nominees. Anton was also the sole Coast Guard enlisted member nominated for the award and the only rotary-wing alert detachment represented in the NORAD Operation Noble Eagle inventory of alert aviation forces.
Operational since 2006, the NCRADF is the Coast Guard’s sole permanently trained alert air defense facility. Under the tactical control of NORAD, this detachment of Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey, conducts Rotary Wing Air Intercept of “low/slow” aircraft violating restricted airspace above the NCR. The NCRADF is augmented with both permanent and temporarily assigned aircrews from Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Serving for now close to 13 years, Anton has been assigned as aviation engineering permanent party at the NCRADF since 2017 and previously served at the NCRADF as temporary duty from Air Station Atlantic City from 2013 to 2017.
Anton is the Alert Maintenance Day Shift Supervisor at NCRADF and directs 10-person maintenance crews during 9-hour shifts, supporting three alert MH-65 Dolphin helicopters. His leadership was instrumental in attaining a 100% dispatch to 204 active air defense missions above the national capital region and 2,312 program flight hours at the NCRADF. As the sole Coast Guard unit conducting Rotary Wing Air Intercept operations, his subject matter expertise was critical to the success of the Coast Guard support of Operation Nobel Eagle.
“This is very humbling because I work with a lot of highly skilled people,” said Anton. “I see this as a team win. You cannot do this job alone and it is not an individual job. I am successful because of my leaders and they empower me.”
Empowering its people, especially junior enlisted and officers, and entrusting them with significant responsibilities right out of boot camp, the academy and officer candidate school is something the Coast Guard is known for. Anton used this empowerment to ground one of the NCRADF aircraft that needed to make an emergency precautionary landing. Following established protocol, Anton stood by his safety assessment and grounded the aircraft even through his decision was initially challenged.
“It’s so ingrained in us to operate in a safe matter,” he said. “Regardless of rank, everyone is expected to speak up in the event they see something wrong. Everyone has an equal voice. There’s no fear of reprisal here.”
However, situations like not having the proper equipment can sometimes keep vessels from getting underway and ground helicopters and planes from taking to the skies to conduct their daily missions including saving lives. Anton stressed that the air station crews do not conduct maintenance unless they have the proper tools. With this kind of keen situational awareness, his chain of command routinely commends his focus on enhanced flight safety.
“Petty Officer Anton's leadership on the hangar deck motivates our personnel to take ownership of each and every task,” said Cmdr. Zac Mathews, Alert Detachment Supervisor at NCRADF. “His ability to balance maintenance for three alert helicopters while managing aviation special mission operational risk is key to the safety and security of Operation Noble Eagle."
The daily challenges of the NCRADF keeps the crews on their toes and eyes in the sky to successfully perform the air station’s unique mission and thwart any threats to the National Capital Region.
"Since 2006 determined pilots, aircrew, and supporting rates have established a sterling reputation among the airspace protection interagency as stalwart guardians of the skies above our nation's capital,” said Mathews. “These alert crews have responded to almost two thousand air defense missions having never missed a launch in our 14 year history. This small detachment of Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City is successful thanks to the unbreakable teamwork of our people, especially our aviation enlisted professionals.”
Maintaining this high stress and high operational tempo requires tight cohesion with everyone involved. Fancy award and recognition or not, Anton says the real prize is working alongside his crewmembers every single day.
“This is the best air station in my opinion,” he said smiling. “In order to accomplish the mission you need to have good teamwork. We work together like a well-oiled machine. I love my job and I love the people I work with.”