From the Southside to Air Force: Maintainer shares story of redemption

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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.”