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From Southside to Air Force: Maintainer shares story of redemption

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, walks out to an F-22 Raptor to conduct preflight inspections during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. This is Dowling’s first time participating in the U.S. Air Force’s premiere large-force air, cyber and space exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, walks out to an F-22 Raptor to conduct preflight inspections during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. This is Dowling’s first time participating in the U.S. Air Force’s premiere large-force air, cyber and space exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, checks his equipment before conducting preflight inspections on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Red Flag 17-1 includes not only Raptor aircrews and support, but fellow fifth generation F-35A Lightning II crews. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, checks his equipment before conducting preflight inspections on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Red Flag 17-1 includes not only Raptor aircrews and support, but fellow fifth generation F-35A Lightning II crews. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, checks an F-22 Raptor’s wing lights during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Checking the lights is a part of preflight inspections that ensure the aircraft’s instruments are in safe working order to fly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, checks an F-22 Raptor’s wing lights during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Checking the lights is a part of preflight inspections that ensure the aircraft’s instruments are in safe working order to fly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, takes a break while waiting for an F-22 Raptor pilot to arrive to his jet during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Crew chiefs conduct preflight checks before pilots arrive to ensure that all aircraft maintenance safety measures are in standards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, takes a break while waiting for an F-22 Raptor pilot to arrive to his jet during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Crew chiefs conduct preflight checks before pilots arrive to ensure that all aircraft maintenance safety measures are in standards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, conducts preflight checks on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Preflight checks are conducted to ensure aircraft are safe to fly in the large force, coalition exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, conducts preflight checks on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Preflight checks are conducted to ensure aircraft are safe to fly in the large force, coalition exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, right, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, briefs an F-22 Raptor pilot during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Crew chiefs like Dowling work day or night shifts at Red Flag to enable various exercise missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, right, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, briefs an F-22 Raptor pilot during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Crew chiefs like Dowling work day or night shifts at Red Flag to enable various exercise missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, watches as U.S. and coalition aircraft take-off during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Red Flag 17-1 features a large force training involving U.S. and coalition forces working together in a cyber, space and air battlefield domains. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, watches as U.S. and coalition aircraft take-off during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. Red Flag 17-1 features a large force training involving U.S. and coalition forces working together in a cyber, space and air battlefield domains. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

An F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., takes off during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. The Raptors among other aircraft were cleared to fly after verifying several aspects of flight safety including weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

An F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., takes off during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26, 2017. The Raptors among other aircraft were cleared to fly after verifying several aspects of flight safety including weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

Enduring the Southside of Chicago Heights’ symphony of gun shots and screams was not something U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brian Dowling was willing to continue.

 

“Getting out of the area I grew up in was the main priority,” said Dowling, now a crew chief with the 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. “I scored a 98 on the [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test] and originally wanted to be a linguist, but I just wanted to leave as quick as possible, so mechanical it was.”

After renting out his grandfather’s basement for a few months, he and his cousin concluded that they would join the military together.

However, that plan was halted before the two could enlist.

“He got locked up for armed robbery a couple of months before I left for basic, and we were supposed to be in the same flight,” said Dowling.

For Dowling, his cousin’s arrest was an unfortunate wake-up call that only solidified his decision to join the U.S. Air Force.

“I wouldn’t be in a good place if I had stayed; probably dead or locked up,” said Dowling. “I was supposed to hang out with my cousin that night; he was on his way back from the robbery when he got pulled over and caught. It was that close to going south for me too.”

Now a year after arriving to JBLE, Dowling is participating in his first military exercise, Red Flag. Held at Nellis AFB, Nevada, the exercise offers the U.S. Air Force’s premiere integration of air, cyber and space operations in a large-force coalition effort.

While Dowling’s daily duties at Red Flag 17-1 don’t differ much from conducting pre- and post-flight inspections and maintenance at his home unit, the perspective of how he fits into the 21st century multi-platform battlefield has broadened.

“Compared to other jobs, I get to say that I work on that jet as it’s flying overhead,” said Dowling of working on the F-22 Raptor, a fifth-generation fighter aircraft that dominates the air with stealth, supercruise, maneuverability and integrated avionics.

 “I love it at Red Flag so far,” he added. “Just seeing all of the other countries here and watching the other jets taxi as you taxi your jet adds shock and awe, especially as a first timer.”

For Senior Master Sgt. Donald Price, 27th AMU superintendent, it’s apparent that Dowling is not only benefitting from his Red Flag experience, but the Air Force benefits from proficient maintainers like Dowling.

“He’s striving every day to be the best maintainer he can be,” said Price. “A lot is riding on what he does.”

 With self-proclaimed obsessive compulsive disorder, Dowling is one of the first Airmen out to the flight line ensuring that all his tools are in order and that preflight checks are ready to go.

 “Probably the most important aspect of this job is attention to detail,” said Price. “With what he does every single day, lives are at stake. Whether it’s the lives or safety of his coworkers on the ground or the pilots, if you lacked that attention to detail there could be severe consequences.”

 For Dowling, he is just doing his job to the best of his ability, as the main goal of the 27th AMU is to keep everyone safe.

As he makes his way to his aircraft checking its wings, engine intake, tires and more daily, Dowling does so with a sense of pride in knowing that he not only made it out of the Southside, but to the Air Force’s premiere training to work on a multi-role stealth fighter aircraft.

 “I thank the Air Force for everything I have,” said Dowling, who now owns his own home with his wife. “I wouldn’t have any of this, if it wasn’t for the Air Force.”  

 

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