by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/14/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — There is no acceptable margin of error when it comes to launching aircraft in a safe, secure and reliable manner. In order for jets deployed at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing to get off the ground, they require highly trained maintainers … and their tools.
“Without tools they can’t fix the planes,” said Tech. Sgt. Marc Chamberlain, the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron consolidated tool kit NCO in charge deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and hails from Winthrop, Maine. “If you don’t have tools to fix the plane, how’s the plane going to do its mission? That’s where we come in.”
CTK handles an average of nearly 700 tools each day including those being signed in and out over a 24-hour period. Chamberlain noted on any given day they may reach nearly 1,000 tools exchanged, handled and maintained depending on the amount of missions and aircraft supported.
“There’s an inventory management software we use to track all the tools,” he said. “All our maintainers are loaded into the system by their ‘man’ number and when they come up to the counter, they give us this number, we put it in, and whatever tools they need — toolbox, laptop — we scan it into the system and that’s what’s assigned to them.”
Chamberlain said CTK is an alternate duty and according to their Air Force instructions, it’s something that has to be manned. So they pull Airmen from each career field across maintenance.
“Most of my guys are from C-5 Galaxy ‘land,'” added Chamberlain. “Not anyone particular career field is more important than the other, because I’m a jet troop back home and I can’t really do my job if there’s no tires or aircraft on the ground. So crew chiefs, jet troops, our debriefers — are all important and everybody has to work together to get the mission accomplished.”
Not only does CTK supply all the tools for C-17 Globemaster III maintainers, but they also perform a dual role of supporting 8th EAMS maintainers catching all the transient aircraft coming through here, such as the weekly rotators, KC-10 Extenders, C-5s, or distinguished visitor airframes like the MD-11.
At the beginning of each shift, CTK conducts a massive inventory listing cataloging what’s currently out. During this MIL, as they call it, they go through each drawer and shelf making sure what’s present matches the inventory.
“If something isn’t on that list and not in that drawer — it’s lost,” said Chamberlain. “So we have to search for the tool and figure out where it may be located.”
Chamberlain said the last thing they’d want is a mission tool to be sucked into an aircraft’s engine.
“Depending on the aircraft and the last known location of the tool, the aircraft gets ‘RED X’d,’ he said. “We do a complete search of the plane until they it’s deemed ‘not on the aircraft.'”
Though as with the aircraft maintainers upkeep, their tools are also liable to break from time-to-time.
“If someone comes back with a broken tool and we don’t have a spare for that tool, we annotate it in the box with appropriate labeling,” Chamberlain said. “Then in the inventory system, we note the tool has been removed and why.”
Chamberlain noted common-use tools they have an ample supply of, like screwdrivers and wrenches, but if they have to order an item they purchase it locally through their resource advisor.
As maintainers, CTK Airmen understand the importance of well cared for tools. Senior Airman Frank Riggio explains why and how he feels he now contributes to the mission.
“Without us, maintainers would be out of a job,” said Riggio, an 8th EAMS CTK custodian deployed from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and hails from Pueblo, Colo. “What we do makes me feel like my job is worthwhile and that I am fighting for something bigger than myself. It’s really rewarding and I have fun every day.”
[Editor’s note: This article is part seven of an eight part series highlighting the unique missions accomplished by the Airmen of 8th EAMS.]