One down, seven more to go -- Alaska Air National Guard members in the structural maintenance department in the 176th Wing are busy working on a big surprise. 

"We've been trying to keep everybody out of this side of the hangar," TSgt. James Jones said. "Most people in the Wing know we have something going on, so they try to sneak in and get a peek at it."

Jones and his small crew are reworking the full fleet of C-17 tail flashes. The early October reveal will feature the wolf head from the Alaska National Guard 144th Airlift Squadron patch on the port (left) side. On the starboard side (right) The 517th Airlift Squadron Firebird. The 517th is active duty and belongs to 3rd Wing.

"It's pretty impressive for us," Jones said. "We see what other units have and you get a little jealous sometimes. Now we're finally getting our turn to put our mark on our tails. What's bigger for me is when I deploy with our rescue assets, I see our aircraft coming in and out of other locations and being able to see an Alaskan tail come in, that's from my home state that my brothers and sisters are working on is pretty cool for me."

It was only about a month ago, late August or early September that the Alaska Air National Guard structural maintenance team was told of their new mission. 

"Our leadership approached us and said we have an idea of what we want on our aircraft," Jones said. "They presented us with the design and everybody liked it from the get-go so, when you're enthused and excited about something it makes the day go by faster."

The work is not easy. For the past three weeks, the team worked nine-hour days and did all the work by hand.

"It's been a struggle at times," Senior Airmen Mary Cardenas said. "It's also really cool to be a part of this team and see what kind of work we are doing. Days of frustration knowing you just spend the whole day taping. Then seeing how good it looks because of all that time taping."

In order to paint, the team must wear full Tyvek suits, with gloves, hoods and respirators. 

"It can get pretty hot," Jones said. "You could spend seven of your nine hours on shift in that."

All of the work on the C-17 tail is done by hand with the help of a lift and a projector. 

"We had to use a projector and move it around, lift it up," Cardenas said. "We're now working on a mount on the wall over there. It was a lot of trial and error. We used soapstone or chalk to trace the image on there and then we used masking to tape to tape off different areas to paint each section and stuff like that."

"A lot of tape," Jones said laughing. "A lot of tape, a lot of plastic and a lot of paper. Everything that is on there was done by hand. There is no machine that came up here and did that for us. We're painting with a one-quart paint gun and a two-quart pressure pot. Hand sanding. It's not a lot of fancy technology, it's good ol' old-school craftsmanship."

The first of seven C-17 tail flashes was unveiled on Monday. The team still have seven more to go. 

"The mission tempo is that they have to schedule them to meet the demands of the world," Jones said. "So, perhaps every four to five months when the C-17's come in for hard maintenance is when they'll get in for the new look and cycled out."

The two-sided tail flash signifies the ongoing partnership between the Alaska Air National Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron and the active duty Air Force’s 517th Airlift Squadron.

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