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Squadron's double couples team up on F-16 maintenance

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Nov. 02, 2001) -- Everybody in the Air Force is part of a team - one big team of individuals and a few couples as well. It's unusual for those few couples to be in the same squadron, even rarer for them to hold the same job, and almost unheard of for them to be on deployment together in the same location.

Senior airmen Jason Via and Margarethe Via, 555th Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy, are one of those couples. They are both F-16 crewchiefs with Aviano's "Triple Nickel" squadron and are deployed here as part of Operation Northern Watch. Being in the same squadron proves quite a benefit to the couple.

Senior Airman Wess Sullivan, an avionics specialist, Senior Airman Cecilia Sullivan, a weapons specialist, and senior airmen Jason Via and Margarethe Via, both crewchiefs, are two married couples deployed together with the 555th Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Sorrels.

"If they had put one of us in another fighter squadron, we would be separated probably six or seven months a year," said Margarethe. "We would spend half a year away from each other."

If they hadn't been in the same squadron, they may not have even met. They met at work and have been married some 13 months, celebrating their first anniversary here.

The Via's, however, aren't the only couple within the squadron.

Senior airmen Wess and Cecilia Sullivan also work to keep Air Force fighters fit and mission ready. He is an avionics specialist, and she is a weapons specialist.

"We met at our last base, Shaw AFB in South Carolina, through mutual friends," said Wess.

The two will have their one-year anniversary in January, and they find the arrangement convenient.

"It makes getting to work pretty easy," said Wess.

"And our schedule is usually the same," added Cecilia. "You can go in at the same time and get off work at the same time."

Working together is not all it seems though.

"We do work different jobs," said Wess. "Though we work the same shift, we rarely get to see each other throughout the day, except for down time, and we stay pretty busy."

Capt. Tim Coger, the Triple Nickel's maintenance officer, points out that despite the convenience of being a couple within the squadron, the mission takes top priority.

"As a supervisor, I have to look at each person individually and at what they contribute to the squadron's sortie generation effort. With the Air Force's emphasis on quality of life, decisions are made that will try to keep these couples together as much as possible. Happier people are more productive. But if the mission dictates splitting them up, that will come first, and the Sullivan's and the Via's understand that is the case."

Being married and working in the same workplace provides more than just a chance to be together with your spouse though. It can have a positive effect on the mission.

For the Via's, there is the lighthearted competition common amongst crewchiefs.

"I guess there probably is a little bit of competition," said Margarethe. "But that has never been a problem."

"It's actually helpful," said Jason. "It pushes us to be that much better. If I look at her and she is doing something and I am not, then I am going to do that and vice-versa. It makes us both better crew chiefs.

"There is always constant competition amongst crew chiefs," Jason explained, "it is about the upkeep of the aircraft, the cleanliness, the discrepancies you have against it, how well you perform maintenance on it, and how fast you are at doing certain jobs."

While the statistics for such performance are not posted for all to see, crew chiefs can pull up statistics on individual aircraft.

"You can pull those numbers up and see that your aircraft was reliable 95 percent of the time and that makes us feel good," Jason said.

There are challenges for a married couple as well. Keeping separate friends is one example.

"I have been at Aviano for four years and so have a lot of the guys that are here now," said Jason. "So we have been friends for four years. Maybe these guys want you to go out and do something, but your wife wants to do something else. You have to decide what is more important."

Besides keeping separate friends, sometimes there are difficulties with the perceptions of others in the squadron.

"There are some people that feel married couples shouldn't be in the same squadron, that think you should have to experience that separation, to know what it feels like to be away from your spouse," said Cecilia.

That's not the case with everyone in the Triple Nickel, though.

"Mostly they just say how lucky we are," said Wess.