Nondestructive inspection: Finding the cracks

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/14/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — While playing football during physical training, an Airman hurts his arm. Thinking nothing of it, he brushes it off and continues playing. Though after weeks of excruciating pain and a visit to the medical group’s radiology section, an x-ray finds his ulna is fractured. Aircraft undergo similar stressors requiring specially trained Airmen to find the mechanical fractures.

Nondestructive inspection Airmen assigned to 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron here specialize in finding fatal cracks in aircraft parts before they lead to catastrophic failure.

“We’re an inspection branch and it’s our job to make sure the aircraft are structurally sound,” said Master Sgt. Steven McCabe, NDI NCO in charge deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and hails from Irrigon, Ore.

NDI Airmen determine what test method to use and prepare fluids and parts for inspection. They also analyze worn metal content on engine-lubricating oil and other fluids, and recommend corrective actions. These Airmen are proficient in metals identification, detecting metal discontinuities and flaws, radiological safety and radiation monitoring.

“So in a nutshell, we find cracks you can’t see with the naked eye and we have different processes to detect these cracks,” said Staff Sgt. David Bayle, a 379th EMXS NDI craftsman deployed from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, and hails from Port Sanilac, Mich. “If we don’t find the crack, the part itself could fail and it could be very detrimental to the aircraft and the support equipment used to maintain the aircraft.”

Unlike other maintenance career fields, NDI Airmen must understand a fair amount of chemistry as well.

“I had no idea chemistry would be involved in a mechanical career field; my recruiter just told me I’d look for cracks,” said Senior Airman Darnell McConnell, a 379th EMXS NDI journeyman deployed and hails from Colorado Springs, Colo. “NDI is like the coolest field out there and is essentially a non-fail mission. One of my favorite methods is the magnetic particle inspection.”

MPI is a process for detecting surface and slightly subsurface discontinuities in ferromagnetic materials such as iron, nickel and cobalt. The process puts a magnetic field into the part. The piece can be magnetized by direct or indirect magnetization. Direct current is passed through the part and a magnetic field is formed in the material. The presence of a surface or subsurface discontinuity or crack in the material allows the magnetic flux to leak thus proving the presence of an imperfection in the part.

“MPI is easy because the crack glows very bright,” McConnell said.

But as with most maintenance Airmen, they’re all about providing joint warfighters with the best machine possible as their work directly impacts the safety and security of aircrews down range.

“So if it’s a wing, we’re looking for a crack in the wing; if it’s landing gear, we’re looking for cracks in the landing gear,” said McConnell. “If we don’t find the crack, then eventually whatever it is, it’s going to collapse and fail.”

“It makes me feel really good that what we’re doing not only saves the Air Force money, but also saves the Air Force lives,” Bayle added.

Consolidated tool kit enables deployed maintainers, aircraft

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.]

Mobility Airmen process deployed personnel for travel

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s passenger terminal averages more than 85,000 passengers with 3,200 tons of accompanying baggage and nearly 1,000 distinguished visitors annually at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)
The 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s passenger terminal averages more than 85,000 passengers with 3,200 tons of accompanying baggage and nearly 1,000 distinguished visitors annually at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)

8/9/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — While ramp services loads cargo on cargo jets, passenger services loads … You caught that? Yes, they load passengers and their baggage!

The 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s passenger services section averages more than 85,000 passengers with 3,200 tons of accompanying baggage and nearly 1,000 distinguished visitors annually.

“We’re all one team,” said Master Sgt. Trevor Olson, the 8th EAMS passenger services superintendent here on a one year remote tour. “Passengers come through us and we work with all the other agencies within the aerial port of debarkation office to get personnel on their way to wherever they need to go.”

As air transportation specialists within the passenger services section, Airmen review travel documentation for validity and accuracy and check in passengers and baggage.

“It’s really interesting,” said Airman 1st Class Ryan Cameron, an 8th EAMS passenger services specialist deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “We come across a lot of interesting people and unique situations, and we have to figure out the best way to solve the issue and help the customer in a complete and efficient manner.”

Much like their counterparts across 8th EAMS, passenger services Airmen establish procedures for processing passengers and loading them and cargo aboard aircraft, and preparing records and reports. They also establish procedures for passenger and aircraft clearance through international border clearance agencies, as well as check in passengers, process, schedule, transport and escort passengers to and from aircraft.

“What we do is vital as far as getting passengers in and out of the country,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Deckert, the 8th EAMS passenger services supervisor deployed from Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. “We are one of the largest hubs for personnel transiting in and out of U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility. When we do our job right, people get to where they need to go, whether that is downrange or home to family and friends.”

Passenger services is in full compliance with the federal Transportation Security Administration providing effective and efficient security for passengers and freight transportation across the globe.

“TSA prohibits a lot of items,” Olson said. “So we help folks understand what they can and can’t carry-on the jet with them. We may be at a military installation now, but eventually you’re going to transfer to a civilian aircraft and we want everyone to be as prepared as they can be for the trip.”

As the face of 8th EAMS, passenger services maintains a high-level of professionalism in-line with Air Force core values, Olson said.

“We spend a lot of time focusing on our customer service skills, dress and appearance, and our facilities,” said Olson. “Our facility is as shiny as can be because we want transiting personnel to feel comfortable here.”

With floors shiny enough to see your reflection, Olson explained how his Airmen strip and wax it regularly so the ‘face of the base’ maintains appearances. On top of shiny floors, the passenger terminal also has free wireless internet, a United Service Organizations, Inc., center with luxury recliners and couches and gaming systems, a distinguished visitor’s lounge and brand new seating for hundreds waiting to fly to their next destination.

“Just last week we moved nearly 700 passengers in five hours on two different aircraft,” Olson said. “On top of making sure everyone has a ticket, we’re screening bags and luggage, and loading these items onto the aircraft so everyone has what they need at their next stop.”

Rated as “Best Terminal in the AOR” in November 2012 by a Multi-Major Command Staff Assistance Visit and a 98 percent customer approval rating through the Air Force’s online Interactive Customer Evaluation system, the Air Mobility Command’s passenger terminal truly lives up the “Mighty OCHO’s” creed of “You need, we move it!”

[Editor’s note: This article is part six of an eight part series highlighting the unique missions accomplished by the Airmen of 8th EAMS.]

Vehicles on the road, iron in the air

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/7/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — With more than 45 different airframes in the Air Force’s inventory totaling more than 5,500 aircraft, each one needs expert teams, equipment and ground vehicles to keep them ready to fly at a moment’s notice.

“We keep vehicles on the road to get ‘iron’ in the air,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Matos, the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle fleet manager deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan. “We’ve got to keep the mission ‘rolling’ — it’s all about getting those planes in the air.”

Vehicle management has more than 75 Airmen assigned on six-month rotations. This crew handles an average of 450 work orders a month, with 4,830 repair actions totaling nearly 6,200 hours on the job while maintaining a 91 percent mission capable rate, i.e. in working order, for the entire fleet. Matos said this beat’s the U.S. Air Forces Central Command’s standard by six percent.

“The typical maintenance we handle here includes everything from the mobile calls on flightline type vehicles to engine rebuilds, hydraulics, cylinder repairs and rebuilds,” said Master Sgt. Richard Hamilton, the 379th ELRS vehicle management foreman deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. “The vehicles include everything from your pickup trucks all the way up there through your Tunner 60K aircraft cargo loader.”

Hamilton said his team is responsible for the bumper to bumper maintenance on every one of those vehicles and for ensuring a rapid turnaround rate.

“Our 24-hour turnaround rate from the point the customer brings the vehicle into us to where we return the vehicle to our customer is on average 69.9 percent. This is incredible for 1,100 vehicles valued at approximately $182 million in a deployed location, where we have every part we get shipped to us.”

Whether it’s a gasoline or diesel engine, a transmission, drive train or an air conditioning system, these Airmen’s expertise is vital to the wing’s success.

“I’ve been deployed eight times and never in my career worked with a harder working group of Airmen,” the chief said. “For instance, my guys repaired 33 vehicles in one week — I’ve never been at a place that’s happened, ever.”

Vehicle management Airmen inspect, troubleshoot and repair vehicles, schedule and coordinate vehicle maintenance for the entire motor pool and are knowledgeable in the latest computer technology to keep track of the maintenance of all the vehicles on base. They are also responsible for long-range forecasting of maintenance needs based on their knowledge of the vehicles and the people who drive them, and systematically analyze malfunctions by visual and auditory examination or through the use of test equipment.

“We represent seven different career fields here including everything from our lease maintenance program, customer service, fire truck mechanics, refueling mechanics, etc.,” he said. “When people think of vehicle maintenance they think of a mechanic, but there’s a lot more to it than just turning wrenches. There are also fleet management personnel keeping track of all those vehicles while completing all the data collections and schedule all the vehicles in for annual maintenance.”

Vehicle management not only maintains vehicles, but also keeps records for all vehicles and regulates the lease management program as well. This program oversees a lease vehicle fleet size of more than 650 vehicles from nearly 50 organizations across the base.

“What we do is keep vehicles on the road,” said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Grove, the 379th ELRS lease vehicle management NCO in charge deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. “We run the base’s vehicle control program that helps the Air Force manage what we have to do to keep the vehicles rolling. What we do empowers our unit vehicle control officers so they can accomplish what they need to in their own unit.”

The vehicle maintenance world at the 379th AEW is vital and according to Hamilton, “Nothing moves without mechanics.”

“Our vehicle maintenance touches every part of the base,” Hamilton said. “Everything happening on this base can’t be done without a vehicle. We have more than 160 mission critical vehicles here. Critical vehicles are only dedicated to launching aircraft, sustaining sorties, fire trucks or refuelers, and your 60Ks that load the cargo and material handling equipment. We maintain a 91 percent critical vehicle turnaround rate.”

Matos said the nearly 45 buses running the base shuttle bus system take up 40 percent of their workload, followed closely by the security forces Humvees. These buses transport roughly 82,000 passengers a month.

“So without vehicle maintenance, the mission doesn’t get done,” the chief said. “We have a hand in just about every single function on this base in one form or another.”

“Supply deliveries can’t be made, aircraft fueling can’t be done and security forces can’t do their patrols without their vehicles we maintain,” added Hamilton.

First-ever first sergeant symposium at deployed base

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/7/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — A First Sergeant Symposium designed to provide information and tools to aspiring first sergeants was held here July 27 and Aug. 3 for the first time ever at a deployed location.

First sergeants are the principal advisor to the commander on all issues related to the enlisted force and exercise general supervision over assigned enlisted personnel. Those in attendance at the symposium were introduced to many concepts and experiences first sergeants encounter. The course instructors were first sergeants who used their first-hand experience to drive home their assigned topics.

“This gives you the tools to keep in mind, to help you as supervisors and first sergeants,” said Master Sgt. Melissa Somers, the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., and a course instructor.

While originally intended for aspiring first sergeants, the course was also host to supervisors, superintendents and additional duty first sergeants.

“This has been extremely amazing and very beneficial,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Foxx, the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron flight medical clinic NCO in charge and additional duty first sergeant deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. “What they taught here really expands on what you learn in NCO academy.”

Course curriculum ranged from explaining first sergeant responsibilities to administrative paperwork, and from Article 15 processing to domestic violence and sexual assault response. The first sergeants had to limit their class selection to 20, specifically picking items of interest for the deployed Airman.

“It was a big challenge for us,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Swieda, the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron first sergeant deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and a course coordinator. “The course stateside is a four consecutive-day symposium, but with the high operations tempo we have here, we had to condense the material into two non-consecutive days.”

Swieda said they weren’t able to have as many open discussions and panels as the stateside course would as a result of the abridged curriculum, but added how impressed the first sergeants were of the students’ dedication as many of them volunteered their days off for this.

“We rely heavily on these folks to fill in for us,” Swieda said. “So this training provides them the information, training, tools and knowledge through Air Force sanctioned training and first-hand stories on how to do what we do.”

First sergeants must have knowledge of personnel management with emphasis on quality force indicators, personnel and administration; military training; Air Force organization; drill and ceremonies; customs and courtesies; sanitation and hygiene; military justice; and counseling techniques.

“The most beneficial part of this training for me was the first-hand stories from the first sergeants,” Foxx said. “It was very helpful to hear what tools they use and how they cope with difficult situations that may come up, like deaths and non-judicial punishment.”

Over the span of the two days, nearly 55 seasoned Airmen attended the symposium learning what it takes to take on the roles and responsibilities of becoming a first sergeant.

“This was an amazing experience and it would be worth doing again,” Foxx said.

8th EAMS checks cargo for correct care

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/1/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Whether its hazardous cargo, blood shipments, ammo and explosives, the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s cargo processing and special handling section ensures items are properly marked, have their paperwork and the security necessary for flying the items to their destination.

“Our main focus is safety of flight,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Graham, the 8th EAMS cargo processing and special handling NCO in charge currently on a remote tour here. “We make sure every piece of hazardous marked cargo is correctly prepared for flight.”

Special handling ensures items like blood, plasma, vaccines and bio samples are properly stored using their refrigerator units.

“Upon arrival here we have no more than 12 hours to make sure the blood is downloaded and stored in our reefer units,” Graham said. “We have 75 pounds of dry ice on hand to assist in this process.”

Thanks to 8th EAMS, the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group’s Blood Transshipment Center is able to accomplish their mission to providing life sustaining blood products to not only U.S. forces, but also Afghan soldiers, NATO members and coalition forces who have been injured downrange.

Not only does Graham’s section deal with life-saving items, but also highly toxic and radioactive material.

“If it’s not properly labeled it could cause for serious concern in-flight,” he said. “And that’s where we come in. We go through and inspect everything so incidents don’t happen, especially not when you’re 20,000 feet in the air.”

Special handling also works hand-in-hand with mortuary affairs to ensure service member’s remains are handled correctly as part of the Department of Defense’s dignified transfer mission.

“Our reefers also store human remains,” said Graham. “When our fallen brothers and sisters come through here, we work very closely with mortuary affairs to make sure they get the dignified transfer they deserve.”

Master Sgt. Michael Trace, the 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron readiness and mortuary affairs superintendent deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., said the dignified transfer mission is very important and he appreciates the care 8th EAMS takes in its support.

“They handle it just the same as we would,” Trace said. “They render the proper customs and courtesies including the handling. They practice these customs with us so we’re all on the same page.”

In Trace’s opinion, the dignified transfer mission is the number one mission carried out by the 379th EFSS.

“We want to make sure we are taking proper care of our fallen warriors and get them home and 8th EAMS does a great job of doing that with us,” continued Trace.

As the U.S. continues its draw down in Afghanistan, 8th EAMS is working hard to make sure units down range have the right equipment to secure cargo on its way home to the states.

“We monitor all the pallets and nets on base,” said Master Sgt. Kenneth Pettit, the 8th EAMS aircraft services superintendent also on a remote tour here. “We’ve encountered a critical crunch as units redeploy back to home station.”

Pettit asks units here with pallets and nets to return them to 8th EAMS as they assist units in Afghanistan returning home.

“We can’t accomplish our mission here without every member in the mobility chain,” Pettit said. “Each organization in the wheel is essential.”

Keeping people safe by completing mission essential inspections is just another day on the job for cargo processing and special handling, however.

“Every box I build, I treat as if it’s going to my friends and family,” Graham said. “Our mission here means a lot to me because that box of munitions we shipped out could have saved my nephews and cousins deployed with the Army, Air Force and Marines.”

[Editor’s note: This article is part five of an eight part series highlighting the unique missions accomplished by the Airmen of 8th EAMS.]

Joint STARS: Mission crews collect life-saving data

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/1/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — While maintainers and flight deck crews are essential to the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System’s role in the U.S. military’s ongoing war efforts, it’s the mission crew employing their tools that protect U.S. and coalition ground forces around the world.

“It has to be a total team effort,” said Maj. Scott, a 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron mission crew commander. “We rely on the flight deck and maintainers to get us to where we are going. Other sections within the squadron also work hand-in-hand — intel, aircrew flight equipment, our communications team — from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we’re overhead relaying data to those who need it most.”

The Joint STARS’ antenna can be tilted to either side of the aircraft where it can develop a 120-degree field of view covering more than 19,300 square miles and is capable of detecting targets at more than 820,000 feet. As a battle management, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and command and control asset, the E-8C can support the full spectrum of roles and missions from peacekeeping operations to major war.

Scott said they do this by means of the onboard electronic warfare equipment and their 18 member mission crew including 15 Airmen and three Soldiers. Although he added the mission crew size varies according to mission requirements.

The mission crew includes an air intelligence officer or technician, two communications systems technicians, two airborne radar technicians, a senior director, two air weapons officers, a senior director technician, an air operations technician, an Army deputy mission crew commander and one or two Army airborne target surveillance supervisors.

“It’s our job to communicate the Army ground forces commander’s intent to the Air Force personnel,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Quincy, an Army mission crew commander. “Air Force personnel don’t always understand Army jargon, so we translate what our ground forces need in terms our Air Force brethren understand.”

The E-8C’s moving target indicator radar system not only allows the ground commander to react to movement, but the combination of MTI and synthetic aperture radar analysis is beneficial in determining if the enemy is preparing defenses and obstacles or dispersing.

Quincy said the situational awareness provided by the Joint STARS allows the ground commander to task other ISR assets to collect further information on initial reports and maneuver forces to exploit any enemy weaknesses.

“We can assist with counterinsurgency overwatch of the guys on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Claude, the 7th EACCS commander. “While the other ISR airframes are tailored for air-to-air coordination, we are designed for air-to-ground coordination.”

The colonel added his unit also works with the Navy providing them overwatch, saying that’s really why it’s the E-8C “Joint” STARS as they work with so many branches of the U.S. military. Mission crews routinely check in with joint terminal attack controllers in the area and link to other strike and ISR aircraft, including other command and control aircraft such as Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems and Navy P-3 Orions.

Joint STARS provide essential data that in turn leads to operations including force protection, movement overwatch, defensive operations, dynamic tasking of ISR assets, troops in contact with the enemy and combat search and rescue. These operations range from major offensives against organized threats to stability and support operations.

“That’s what I signed up to do,” said Capt. Matthew, a 7th EACCS mission crew senior director. “I’m able to contribute by giving our guys on the ground the overwatch they need to keep them safe. These are the guys who are really in harm’s way — in the heat of the battle and not just the heat of the environment. Whatever we can do to help, I’m happy we can be there for them.”

[Editor’s note: This article is part three of a three part series highlighting the E-8C Joint STARS deployed mission.]

Healing deployed wounded warriors

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Army Spc. Demetrius Payton warms up his muscles prior to physical therapy at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, July 24, 2013. Payton is a motor vehicle operator who injured himself during convoy operations in Afghanistan and has been recovering at the Intra-Theater Care Program here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)
U.S. Army Spc. Demetrius Payton warms up his muscles prior to physical therapy at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, July 24, 2013. Payton is a motor vehicle operator who injured himself during convoy operations in Afghanistan and has been recovering at the Intra-Theater Care Program here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)

7/31/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Established in 2008, the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group’s Intra-Theater Care Program here ensures no service member is sent home from the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility before having a chance to get back in the fight.

“We’re here to ease the workload of our forward operating hospitals so they can focus on the critically ill patients, and in turn, ITCP takes care of the non-emergent combat and non-combat related injuries,” said Staff Sgt. Shannon Maynard, the program’s NCO in charge deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. “Our goal is to fix these soldiers and return them to duty within 30 days without them having to leave the AOR.”

On average, ITCP cares for 15 wounded warriors a month, returning 98 percent of patients to their units down range. The program’s patient make-up usually consists of 80 percent Army, 10 percent Air Force and 10 percent Navy and Marines.

“The benefit of this program is pretty significant,” Maynard said. “Patients who would normally go home and probably never return to the AOR, have the ability to come here, recover, relax and get the care they absolutely need before returning to duty without leaving their unit one man behind.”

This in turn saves the Department of Defense thousands of dollars that would have otherwise been used to locate another service member to take their place, no-notice, while they recover at hospitals in places like Germany and stateside.

“For me it was encouraging because we were told if you went to Germany that usually means you’re going home or if you’re home, you’re just not going to come back from certain types of injuries or ailments,” said U.S. Army Spc. Demetrius Payton, an ITCP patient who injured his foot while on convoy duty in Afghanistan. “It was encouraging for me because I wasn’t ready to leave; I was so short in my deployment. But when the doctors at Bagram Air Base told me I was coming here, my hopes rose.”

Payton said he didn’t want to leave his unit a man short and can’t wait to get back to them, but said he couldn’t have recovered as quickly as he has without the ITCP and the medical group’s staff.

The program affords patients access to fully qualified medical personnel 24/7. These patients are able to partake in all base activities going on pending it isn’t harming their recovery. ITCP is capable of housing up to 20 patients at any given time. Behind the scenes, Maynard works hand-in-hand with the patient’s units coordinating with the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility for their movement back down range and their direct line to the surgeons.

“Basically I am here to provide the best care and welfare I can for my patients, ensuring they make every appointment and adhere to their profile restrictions,” she said.

Maynard said this program benefits the warfighter by giving them a safe place to come and recover. They are given the care they need and a place to relax and decompress while they are here. Patients have access to all other services on base that wouldn’t be available down range.

“Since being here I’ve had nothing but success as far as battling the infection on my foot,” Payton said. “The infection could have invaded the bone and found its way into the blood system. But they settled my fears and treated me very well. Now the infection itself is basically beaten and I’m just going through the physical therapy process to get back in the fight.”

However, physical recovery isn’t Maynard’s only concern as she’s also looking out for their mental recovery.

“They get to participate in absolutely everything here,” she said. “When celebrities come by this is one of the first stops they make and I think it’s good for their morale.”

ITCP also provides patients with a weekly pizza night, Sunday brunch in bed and numerous other activities throughout the week. Patients are also encouraged to make themselves at home and participate in other morale, wellness and recreation events here, like Karaoke night at Memorial Plaza, among others.

“You don’t really feel like you’re isolated from the regular personnel here or even from the other patients,” Payton said. “It really feels good and makes you feel normal — not just like a patient.”

“They’ve made me feel so special,” added Marine Lance Cpl. Matt Zager, an ITCP patient. “I’m very appreciative for everything they’ve done to help me get better and back in the fight, not just physically, but emotionally as well.”

Maynard said she feels like the patients form bonds with other patients really helping in their recovery efforts.

“Even though they are from all different branches of the military, they form their own unit,” she said. “It’s nice to actually stand back and watch them bond and find out about different branches of the armed forces.”

As Payton completes his final steps to recovery he said he’s so grateful for everything ITCP, Maynard and the hospital staff has done for him.

“They really make you feel like part of a family,” Payton said. “You feel like you’re cared for here and not just another number.”

From the moment patients, like Payton, get off the plane to the moment they head back to the fight, ITCP is with them every step of the way.

“I think the patients respond well to the program; there’s always somebody there to take care of them,” Maynard said. “We have a mission here to get them better and back in the fight as soon as possible.”

8th EAMS: “Where’s the waste gone?”

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/26/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — While in the sky or on the ground, humans must relieve themselves multiple times throughout the day, but when you’re 20,000 feet above in a C-17 Globemaster III where does it all go? Enter the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron fleet services Airmen here.

“What we do is important because people need to be able to use the restroom,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Breski, the 8th EAMS fleet services NCO in charge deployed from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. “We are the only full-service aerial port in the [U.S. Central Command’s] area of responsibility and while what we do may not be glamorous, it’s a job that must be done.”

Once an aircraft comes to the flightline, it is fleet services’ job to dispose of any waste and trash.

The lavatory service truck goes out to the aircraft and attaches a pipe to the plane with what they call the “moose head” for a nozzle. A handle is pulled releasing the waste, which then flows through the pipe and into the truck. These trucks are capable of handling 250 gallons of waste at a time.

“It’s a two-person job and you have to be very careful and safe,” Breski said. “The worst is when for whatever reason the coupling between the hose and jet isn’t hooked up quite right and the waste gets all over you, the truck and the flightline.”

Breski said his team of 10, including two NCOs and eight Airmen from four different bases all within Air Mobility Command, are split evenly to cover both day and night shifts. The fleet services team hauls an average of 130 gallons of waste and thirty-five 50-gallon bags of trash each day from every aircraft that is either assigned here or transits through here on its way downrange or home. These aircraft may include everything from KC-135 Stratotankers and C-17s to B-1B Lancers and C-130 Hercules. The next closest fleet services capable base to the AOR is at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

“When we’ve completely drained a jet, we then clean it out with water and prep the pipes for the next mission with a de-icing agent,” said Breski. “We also clean the restrooms and toilets and help the maintainers troubleshoot if one breaks down.”

Describing the blue colored water some toilets have, Master Sgt. Kenneth Pettit, the 8th EAMS aircraft services superintendent, describes how this pigmentation can actually save the jet and crew from a very uncomfortable flight.

“You’ve seen those toilets with the blue water in them, right?” Pettit asks. “Because the waste is generally stored on the outermost part of the jet, we have to put anti-freeze in the pipes to prevent them from bursting during flight as temperatures outside at those altitudes can drop well below zero.”

Though the job isn’t all dirty, Breski added.

“We also stock the jets with coolers of water, toiletries, pillows and blankets, or anything the passengers might need them equipped with,” Breski said. “We call these items expendables to keep passengers comfortable. In fleet services we don’t get a lot of thanks or handshakes, but it means a lot to me when a jet can take off and the passengers on board have what they need to start doing their mission down range.”

[Editor’s note: This article is part four of an eight part series highlighting the unique missions accomplished by the Airmen of 8th EAMS.]

Born in the military: One family’s legacy of service

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)
(U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)

7/26/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Military deployments are difficult for both the service member and the family members they leave behind. Being in a dual-military parent family doesn’t make it easier, but after nearly 50 years of combined service, the current Wakefields are continuing their family’s tradition.

“My great uncles served in the Army during WWII, my Dad was an Army mortar man, I’m an aircraft maintainer and now my son is an infantryman in the Marines,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gary Wakefield, the 7th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit chief deployed from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. “As soon as my youngest graduates high school, he’ll also join the Marines.”

For the Wakefields, the military has become a way of life that’s been passed down through the generations and as if by fate, the chief found himself a wife whose family also has a strong legacy of service.

“My Dad spent 23 years in the Air Force as basically a security police officer,” said Master Sgt. Dana Wakefield, assigned to the 94th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Dobbins Air Reserve Base and working for the Air Force Reserve Management Group’s Training Management Branch at Robins AFB. “So I grew up in the life of the military child with father gone a lot and mom struggling to keep it all together.”

That sentiment is nothing new for (dual-) military families with at least one member gone every 20 months or less for various deployments, temporary duty assignments and unaccompanied one year “short” tours to places like Turkey and South Korea.

“I’m not going lie, it has been difficult at times leaving my family as often and as long as I have throughout my career,” the 25-year chief said. “But we pulled through it as a family and I believe these experiences have made us stronger.”

Not only was it hard for the chief, but those times dad was gone, were difficult for the family as well.

“All the deployments, unaccompanied tours and moving every two to four years does make you earn your pay check in very unexpected ways,” Dana said, who has served for nearly 23 years herself. “I thought it would be easier for me having grown up that way, but it has been just as hard, maybe harder as I struggle to balance being a mom and serve my country in uniform as well.”

Dana talked about how she’s felt during deployments, especially now both her husband and oldest son are deployed at the same time.

“In the past deployments, I have felt every dark emotion known to womankind,” she said. “You become needy in ways you can’t understand and you can’t explain. It is a strange situation because then they come back and while your new needs start to be filled, the deployment related needs stay unmet.”

Dana thinks this is why many spouses suffer from various forms of stress disorders and depression.

“You think all is fine when they come back and then another deployment comes and bam, you get it right in the kisser and it all comes flooding back and your fears return,” she said.

Deployments can be tough for military families, but Dana said the blessing is knowing they are coming home.

“While you are missing many areas of support from your spouse, your burden will lighten when they come home, especially if both of you work on the recovery after deployment,” she said. “Having my husband and my son deployed at the same time is very strange. I think I am over my initial fear and anxiety, though I do get very weak in the knees whether I am sitting down or standing up when I say, ‘They are both deployed.’ But then I focus on how very proud I am of both of them.”

Marine Pfc. Seth Wakefield, currently deployed to an undisclosed location in Africa, said it was his parents who really got him interested in the family business.

“I was always fascinated with the military and when Mom and Dad would sometimes come pick me up from school in their battle dress uniforms — I thought it was so cool,” Seth said. “I think anyone who has family in the military, even distant relatives, when you tell someone about it, you fill with pride.”

Seth is the older of the two Wakefield boys, who beat his younger brother, Gage, to the “Semper Fidelis” way of life.

But how do you go from growing up Air Force to joining the Marines?

“I wanted a challenge,” Gage said with a smile. “When I was little and my brother and I said we were going to be Marines, Mom would say, ‘Ok, if you want to make your mother cry.’ Now that we are older, she is happy with my choice, although she wishes I would be a linguist or Intel.”

Yet, like his brother, he plans to join the infantry.

“It gives me a sense of nationalism and pride,” said Gage. “I see from my parents that being in the military is a wonderful way of life that grants amazing opportunities for my future.”

Echoing his brother, Seth explained what it means to him to have such strong figures in the home.

“My Dad is an outstanding example for a young man to follow and I often times find myself in situations where I think of him and what he would do,” said Seth. “And just like any good Marine, I often find myself paving my own path right through the hardest route then thinking, ‘Shoot, I should have listened to him!’ No, but I’m thankful my Dad and Mom are such great examples of outstanding military personnel.”

That token holds true for how the chief and Dana feel of their son’s continued commitment to the family tradition of service.

“I’m proud of my boys,” the chief said. “What they’ve accomplished and plan to do with their lives — that commitment to service, like Dana and I have had, it is truly humbling to know your boys want to serve their country because you served.”

Dana added the military is their family business; it is passed down from father or mother to daughter or son.

“It is the way our family gives back to our community and our country,” she said. “I am very proud of the two patriots we have raised and my hopes for them are bright and shiny just like the stars on our flag. We have a great love of our country, and as my Mom would say, ‘Worts and all.'”

After more deployments, permanent changes of station, TDYs, etc., Dana and the chief said they couldn’t have done it without their family, friends and often times, complete strangers.

“I am grateful for the many Americans I meet almost every day who say, ‘Thank you for your service,'” Dana said.