Standing on a ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, which sits on the western edge of the Mojave Desert 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Jaime Garcia recalls how his passion for aviation began.
“I used to ride my bike to the beach – I was about five or six years old – and I used to see little airplanes come and go,” said the Oxnard, California native. “And I always thought, ‘How cool would that be to work on an airplane?’”
Garcia made his dream a reality at 18 years old when he joined the United States Air Force as a hydraulic mechanic. And that dream first brought him over the San Gabriel Mountains to Edwards Air Force Base in 1989, where he worked on a variety of platforms with the 418th Flight Test Squadron for eight years.
After 20 years of service, Garcia retired from the Air Force in 1997. The retirement ceremony was held on the same ramp where he currently stands, flanked by KC-46A Pegasus tankers on both sides.
So what brought Garcia back to the desert?
“Being part of the bigger picture of the servicemen – the people that give us freedom. That’s what we’re all about,” he answered.
Garcia now contributes to USAF’s global mission as Boeing’s KC-46 maintenance team manager at Edwards Air Force Base. His team provides servicing and maintenance for tankers used in flight test exercises. In Garcia’s words, they are tasked with “providing a safe, flyable aircraft to the United States Air Force crew.”
Oftentimes, making sure the Pegasus flies safely requires the Air Force to push it to its limits during testing.
“Here at Edwards, they not only test for what the aircraft was built for; they’ll take it to extreme parameters to see the limitations, to make sure it can do anything it wouldn’t normally do,” Garcia explained. “It’s just exciting! It’s kind of like watching ‘Top Gun’ or something.”
Garcia says getting to work side by side with the Air Force, even after his enlisted days have ended, is his favorite part of the job.
“Being able to work with the Air Force and on a military platform again has not only reignited my passion; it’s also been a humbling experience,” he said. “You’re not just doing this for a paycheck. You’re doing it for all the servicemen across the globe and for the United States of America. That is phenomenal to me.”
Having the opportunity to service and maintain the world’s most advanced multi-mission aerial refueler has been an equally exciting experience for Garcia.
“When the military sees a KC-46A flying through the sky, it’s not just bringing them gas. It’s bringing people help and hope,” he said. “We’re a link in the big chain of freedom – for America and for the world.”