A flyer’s life is rigger business
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE - During Air Force Basic Military Training inspections, living areas, rolled shirts and folded socks should be flawless, emphasizing and engraining attention to detail in the minds of trainees. Though some may think that they can relax after graduation, for one career field, perfection in rolls, folds and inspections, remains paramount in their list of duties.
The 36th Operations Support Squadron's aircrew flight equipment section supports the mission by providing pilots and aircrews with life- sustaining equipment required for flying missions. The flight makes sure parachutes, harnesses, helmets and masks are free from damage that may cause malfunctions and are ready for use.
"Providing the pilots with quality, serviceable life sustaining equipment helps them focus on the mission at hand," said Master Sgt. James Buckley, 36th OSS aircrew flight equipment superintendent. "The worst thing that could happen is have a pilot or aircrew member distracted from what they're supposed to do due to equipment malfunction that we could have prevented."
When the bombers or the fighters come to Andersen, they bring a flight equipment crew to support their unit's mission. The 36th OSS aircrew flight equipment flight facilitates and supports by providing them with work space and equipment.
Additionally, the flight supports the 36th Contingency Response Group and provides Andersen's flight doctors with parachutes and other flight equipment.
"They take care of the pilots and the aircrews, while I take care of our jumpers here," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Kitts, 36th OSS aircrew flight equipment noncommissioned officer in charge.
"I'm the only one in the shop permanently stationed here," continued Sergeant Kitts. "There are times when it gets overwhelming, but when I need help, I can always go to Sergeant Buckley, the fighter guys or the bombers guys for assistance."
Aside from making sure that the life-sustaining equipments are serviceable, aircrew flight equipment Airmen also provide training for situational flyers, such as Airmen who participate in incentive flights.
"There is important knowledge on the processes of utilizing the life-sustaining equipment that Airmen need to know," said Sergeant Buckley. "It is important that we train those who are not accustomed to being on an aircraft, and get them comfortable using these equipment, especially in case of a flight emergency."
By the book, a normal repack for a parachute runs from 30-45 minutes. If a parachute has already been used for a jump, the parachute is likely to have tangles and damage. These repairs usually take from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on a parachute's condition.
The job involves a lot of repetition as the technicians see the same equipment and follow the same procedures during every inspection.
"If you don't have the motivation and concentration levels to do things correctly, you will place a person's life in danger," said Sergeant Kitts. "We can't afford to get complacent and get into the habit of fixing the same discrepancies repeatedly, overlooking the other problems that the equipment may have.
"A technician has to be fully aware of what's going on," he said. "Because if he misses one step and someone gets injured, it's on him."
The flight practices quality control by maintaining a record of each piece of life-sustaining equipment in an inspection data base. In the event that the parachute did not deploy or a piece of equipment malfunctioned, all activities can be tracked: from the first in-process inspection to the latest packing.
The processes and the record keeping the Airmen follow make sure that the equipment is serviceable as it passes from technician to technician, up until the equipment is used.
"It is important for our Airmen to have the knowledge of the guidance and different directives that govern what we do every day," said Sergeant Buckley.
"There is zero margin for error in this career field," he continued. "We cannot afford to have anything go wrong with a parachute. When someone cuts corners, they put the life of the equipment user at significant risk."
The technicians take a lot of pride in their jobs, pride that was engrained from the moment they got to their technical schools.
"From day one, they are given the importance of what we do and why we should do it the way we were taught," said Sergeant Buckley. "We train knowing that our technicians will bring the same knowledge, values and habits to their operational units."
As pilots, crew chiefs and other Airmen continue to take to the skies in fulfilling the Air Force mission, the Airmen of aircrew flight equipment will continue to work diligently, meticulously, knowing that "[the Airman's] life is [their] business" and making sure that the equipment they provide would be "the last to let [the Airmen] down."