One life, a shop to save it

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Armando A. Schwier-Morales
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Thousands of feet in the sky, alarms start a loud "eerrrk" "eerrk," followed by red warning lights blinking indicating an emergency, and pilots reach for life saving equipment. On the ground, it's one shop's job to ensure the readiness of that gear - the aircrew flight equipment flight.

If the above described scenario were to become reality, the AFE flight helps to ensure a positive outcome. From providing night vision goggles, quick don masks, chemical defense ensembles, to ensuring aircrew members understand how to use their equipment.

"We hope that the equipment we work on is never used, because when it is, it's an emergency situation," said Master Sgt. Michael Stewart, 22nd Operations Support Squadron AFE Quality Assurance superintendent at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. "That is why it's important to have the equipment on the airplane, inspected and ready to use."

AFE Airmen perform regular inspections and tests on life-saving and survival equipment such as 48-man rafts, oxygen masks, helmets, flares, compasses that support the largest KC-135 Stratotanker base in the world.

"As a pilot I am very grateful that they do their job well," said Capt. Gabe Arrington, 22nd Air Refueling Wing executive officer. "If I ever have to use the life saving equipment, I know it will save my life."

McConnell's AFE is the largest flight in the Air Force, with more than 53 members inspecting, testing and maintaining lifesaving equipment. All of the AFE Airmen are expected to be experts in three primary areas: flightline operations, aircrew personal protective equipment section and aircrew continuation training.

"Currently I am working in the chemical defense part of the aircrew personal protective equipment section," said Airman 1st Class Christopher Novak, 22nd OSS AFE journeyman. "It's hard work, but the biggest reward is when pilots thank you and recognize you for what you do to help them. It makes the job worthwhile."

The chemical ensemble Novak works on is one of the key elements in McConnell's upcoming ability to survive and operate operational readiness inspection. A chemical ensemble allows aircrew members to move in and around chemical environments to reach their Stratotankers and complete the mission.

"For the operations group, a large portion of the ORI's graded events rests on our shoulders because we help them don their chemical ensemble and 'decontaminate' them and 'save their lives,'" said Stewart.

The AFE shop feels confident in their skills because of the many hours spent preparing. They prepared by building decontamination lines, within a time limit, and training aircrew members to survive through hazardous environment and maintaining their flight training.

AEF efforts can be seen when the worst comes to worst, but families know that their aircrew member is safe because of the professionalism and efficiency of McConnell AEF flight, said Stewart.