Aircrew flight equipment techs prep life support, survival gear

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shad Eidson
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
When Maj. Doug Condon assumed control of the aircrew flight equipment flight Monday, he knew it was more than just one of many units running 24-hour operations here.

"Based on what I've seen already, everything is extremely well run," said Maj. Doug Condon, 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron's AFE flight commander.

The AFE flight was previously managed by Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Jones as the superintendant. Major Condon is the first commanding officer since the flight formed from the merging of life support and survival equipment more than a year ago.

"Sergeant Jones has done a wonderful job as a superintendant," said Major Condon, who commanded at the OSS level before.

"It is a unique blend of active duty, Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard all in one working unit. Everyone is very professional," Major Condon said.

The merger here last year followed the merging of the sections Air Force wide.

"When I went through technical school years ago, I wondered why we didn't work together," said Master Sgt. David Emrick, NCO in charge of the Rivet Joint flight equipment section and a former life support technician before the merger. "It has opened a lot of eyes between life support and survival equipment to see what the other world is really like."

Back at the 55th OSS at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., the survival equipment is contracted, so his AFE flight there hasn't experienced the full effects of the merger.

"This is our first experience with it. It has been nothing but positive. I think the merger is long overdue and it is going to be an awesome thing," said Sergeant Emrick, who is on his third deployment here. "The future will be pretty much seamless from the merger."

The flight supports the war effort in three different ways. The AFE technicians conduct daily flight aircraft support by taking care of all the prepositioned equipment on board the aircraft including oxygen masks, life rafts and life preservers. All are items aircrew members could potentially use on a daily basis. There are also tasks done in the area of responsibility that the flight doesn't do at home station.

"The second thing we do to support the mission is what I consider to be the most important. We inspect, deliver and pick up the personal recovery kits from the aircraft," said Sergeant Emrick, who hails from Roy, Utah. The survival equipment facilitates their recovery in case something were to happen.

Another AOR specific task is maintaining aircrew chemical gear bags. Aircrew members have this second set they fly with in addition to the standard equipment everyone brings with them. The AFE maintain and store it here for elevated contingency operations, said Sergeant Emrick. At home station his flight maintains more than 1,200 of these bags for deployments.

"It is kind of unique what we do in this flight. Other flights in the OSS support flying operations as a whole without regard to what model of aircraft is flying," he said. "All the different sections here in AFE specialize in one aircraft only."

An EOSS air traffic controller's task isn't affected much whether an RJ or C-130 is landing. They are always concerned with where it parks, how long will it be on the ramp, and when will it take off among other things, said Sergeant Emrick.

"Even though I have worked 130s in my past, I can't go work on them now as I am not current on ground egress training or the equipment and configurations specific to the aircraft," said Sergeant Emrick who also worked F-16 Fighting Falcons for 12 years.

Every aircraft has a different system, and the procedures, inspections and maintenance are completely different from the F-16 and the Rivet Joint models. His section specializes in the RJ-135 and its variants here.

The recovery radios are about the only item that is common, he said.

In 2003 when he was out here with an F-16 squadron here, a pilot ejected southwest of Bagdad. The radio the pilot carried was linked to him.

"By making sure the equipment is ready to go, we become the first step in [combat search and rescue]," said Sergeant Emrick. "Every one of my guys had a hand in the ejection in one way, shape or form.

"There is nothing like living through an accident investigation, a bailout, a guy making it and coming back and telling you 'thank you,'" said Sergeant Emrick. "The fact that his survival radio worked and all his equipment functioned is something I will never forget. It is good because it gives me the experience now while I am here to pass that on to these guys and go 'hey this is why you do this. There is a rhyme and reason to it.'"

While an outsider might see the job as monotonous because AFE technicians only seem to inspect, inspect and reinspect equipment, "I would rather do that than have that little bit of excitement and someone potentially getting hurt," said Sergeant Emrick.

AFE technicians are there to send off the aircrews and again when the mission returns. AFE technicians secure the equipment including the recovery backpacks with survival and security equipment. All the life support equipment that helps facilitate escape is inspected to prepare it for the next flight.

"There is always something to learn. No one person can master it all," said Senior Airman John Cumiskey, AFE technician, and Fairfield, Conn. native on his fourth deployment here.

"This was a hand-picked crew. I wanted them out here with me," said Sergeant Emrick.