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On the flightline with maintainers - Defensive avionic systems Airmen

Airman 1st Class Aaron Riley, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron defensive avionic systems technician, re-installs a wire harness on a B-1 bomber after repairing corrosion damage found during an inspection at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 29, 2013. Defensive avionic systems are mission essential countermeasures systems used by aviators to detect and avoid, or counteract, threats they may encounter during combat missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada/Released)

Airman 1st Class Aaron Riley, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron defensive avionic systems technician, re-installs a wire harness on a B-1 bomber after repairing corrosion damage found during an inspection at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 29, 2013. Defensive avionic systems are mission essential countermeasures systems used by aviators to detect and avoid, or counteract, threats they may encounter during combat missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada/Released)

Defensive avionic systems specialists assigned to the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron re-install a wire harness on a B-1 bomber following corrosion damage repairs found during an inspection at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 29, 2013. Defensive avionic systems specialists are one of the six teams in the 28th AMXS’s specialist section who are responsible for making sure each B-1 at Ellsworth functions properly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada/Released)

Defensive avionic systems specialists assigned to the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron re-install a wire harness on a B-1 bomber following corrosion damage repairs found during an inspection at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 29, 2013. Defensive avionic systems specialists are one of the six teams in the 28th AMXS’s specialist section who are responsible for making sure each B-1 at Ellsworth functions properly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Ellsworth B-1 bombers have provided the U.S. with ground and air superiority for more than two decades - an accomplishment that wouldn't be possible if not for Airmen who work timelessly around-the-clock to service and repair the base's bomber fleet.

Defensive avionic systems specialists are one of the six specialties in the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's specialist section who are responsible for making sure each B-1 at Ellsworth functions properly.

The B-1 is equipped with a number of countermeasures designed to detect and avoid, or counteract threats aircrews may face during combat missions.

"The primary focus for DAS Airmen is safety," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Rehanek, 28th AMXS defensive avionic systems lead technician. "Aircrew need to take care of their AOR (area of responsibility), and that's not possible if they don't have confidence in the systems that help keep them safe."

Rehanek said the defensive systems on B-1s were designed to be highly customizable in order to protect crews from a wide range of threats.

"Missions vary, and so do enemies," Rehanek emphasized. "We make sure our systems can overcome anything they encounter. That means equipping aircraft with chaff and flair that can be deployed against infrared threats and programming anti-missile and enemy radar jamming systems."

Airman 1st Class Katie Bishop, 28th AMXS defensive avionic systems technician, said being a DAS Airman is both physically and mentally demanding.

"A good deal of work we do requires us to take apart a B-1," Bishop said. "The B-1 has a lot of pieces, including wires, antennae and harnesses. Not only do we have to keep track of where we removed all those parts from, but we have to sling and move those heavy pieces around as well."

Bishop explained that she initially learned a majority of her job from senior technicians like Rehanek, who has deployed to Southwest Asia three times in the past six years.

"It's easier to build confidence and correct mistakes at your home station," said Rehanek. "That way, when you deploy and feel the stress of having people's lives on the line, you can rely on your training."

Rehanek said deploying put things into perspective for him, adding that it helped him realize that a lot of people rely on him to do his job to the best of his ability.

He recalled when aircrews from Ellsworth launched in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's mission to protect civilians from enemy attack during the uprising and civil war in Libya.

"It was an amazing experience," Rehanek added. "We worked with the aircrews to let them know the defensive systems' limitations and explained to them what defensive configuration would help them out the most. We didn't lose any aircrew or an airframe. I felt a great sense of pride knowing that I contributed to OOD - a mission that was a huge success."

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