HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
He sits crouched, with the sleeves of his sand shirt rolled just beneath each elbow and a screwdriver in hand. A pair of yellow-lensed glasses are perched atop the bridge of his nose, protecting his concentrated gaze.
With each rotation of his wrist, the screwdriver turns, its bright orange handle a stark contrast to the white of his skin.
Until, with a final twist, the last screw is freed, exposing a large electrical panel.
With furrowed brows, he leans forward... He grabs a small, metal flashlight, and clicks it on—illuminating a labyrinth of vibrant wires.
His eyes flicker back and forth, up and down, scoping the maze, calculating his next move.
This is an average day for Airmen of the 49th Maintenance Squadron Aerospace Ground Equipment’s shop.
Holloman’s AGE Airmen perform a wide variety of maintenance duties in support of aircraft maintenance and flying operations, and are responsible for maintaining and repairing the equipment that supports Holloman’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft.
“We’re the ground support for the aircraft; anything that the aircraft needs, any type of equipment that brings it alive, that is where we come in,” said Senior Airman Luis Bedoya, a 49th MXS AGE technician. “Most of our job involves machines that touch the aircraft. Our counterpart mechanics, crew chiefs, will handle our machines, our equipment, to get their aircraft ready to go for flight operations. We have a saying that, ‘If there is no ground power, there is no air power’.”
There are several different sections that AGE Airmen work in, including a dispatch section, a maintenance section and an inspection section. AGE Airmen working in the inspection section operate, test and inspect AGE, from air conditioners to complex generators, to ensure equipment serviceability. These Airmen perform an average of 35 to 40 inspections per month.
“My favorite thing is seeing the inspection board slowly wither down to maybe one or two pieces of equipment at the end of the month,” said Airman 1st Class Shayne Vasquez, a 49th MXS AGE technician. “When we get an inspection, it goes up on our board and whoever is available picks up what they want to do at the time or what is labeled as priority. An inspection on most equipment consists of regular engine checks, changing the oil, making sure the coolant is good, and checking for any loose hardware throughout the equipment.”
Certain types of AGE require unique inspection points.
“If a piece of equipment has any specialized inspection points, like our heaters, we also make sure to hit those points,” Vasquez said. “With the heaters, you have to check what are called baffles. They help heat the air without letting the exhaust fumes into the air, so it is clean air that comes out. Those get covered in carbon soot. We have to make sure that they are clean or else they will erode and eventually pop a leak and allow the exhaust fumes from the burner, which would be bad to breathe in. That is why we have the TOs, or technical orders, at all times--to make sure we are doing the inspection correctly and that we do not miss any points.”
Training is continuous for these AGE Airmen. As jacks-of-all-trades with all AGE, they need to be prepared to tackle both new and existing challenges, on a day-to-day basis.
“When I was new, it was daunting,” Bedoya said. “The parts that are working in there [a generator] can very well harm you if you do not take the necessary precautions. Due to proper training, I was able to avoid those types of mishaps. Training the new Airmen is something that I take pride in because they are going to take over eventually. I am going to move up the ranks and they are going to be in my spot. They are going to be doing the dirty work. I want to make sure that they are well-rounded.”
The 49th MXS AGE shop’s non-commissioned officers are great mentors to their junior enlisted members.
“One of the reasons we have been so successful is because we have very good training and we have very good NCOs,” Bedoya said. “They get our training on point; we do not miss a training. It is always train, train, train, train. Because, when you go down range, you have to do a lot with very little. You could use bubble gum and some duct tape to do your job, and if it works, it works--you did a good job. So, when you are down range and people are actually depending on you, the mission is actually depending on you--you can react how you are trained to.”