by Airman 1st Class Christopher Morales
JBER Public Affairs
9/17/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- In
1995, Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady was shot down over Bosnia. He
survived a week until his rescue with only a 29-pound survival bag of
gear, rations and most importantly, a radio.
A routine mission or an emergency night flight can have the same
consequences. Human error and technical difficulties can take down an
aircraft just as swiftly as anti-aircraft fire.
When all else fails, the personnel of Aircrew Flight Equipment are the last to let you down.
Their job is to inspect, maintain and configure aircraft and aircrew
with the equipment they need to survive. They maintain oxygen equipment
and survival gear for emergencies, in addition to flight helmets, masks
and night vision goggles for everyday missions.
"We don't always see the fruit of our labor [because] the emergency
equipment on board isn't used every day, which is a good thing," said
Senior Airman Robert Moran, 3rd Operations Support Squadron AFE
journeyman. "When they need to use AFE, it works every time."
AFE covers gear like lifeboats, chemical protection bags and
personnel-recovery kits, as well as location-specific items like arctic
kits, survival vests and body armor.
From night vision goggles to parachutes and everything in between, the
AFE Airmen check, inspect, correct and double-check for maximum
Every piece of equipment must be inspected, so AFE Airmen operate on a
cycle, such as a 90-day rotation for masks and helmets. The cycle
differs based on the use and nature of equipment.
"If [an item] has any write-ups they have to fix it again, and we check
to see if it was done correctly. Then they put them it back in the
lockers," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Felicia Druin, an AFE craftsman. "We
also have technical orders. They go step-by-step by the TO."
The flight supports the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron as well as the 90th and 525th fighter squadrons.
"We have approximately 190 aircrew members, and each one has [a] locker
room here with their helmets, masks, [protective] gear and other
equipment," Moran said. "Sometimes, you are inspecting and maintaining
gear that is just rarely used - but when it is, it really matters.
"We specialize in C-17 [Globemaster IIIs] and C-12 [Hurons]," Moran
said. "Sometimes, when the Airmen finish their upgrade training and are
knowledgeable in this area and airframe, it's likely that leadership
will move Airmen for their benefit to get a better understanding of the
entire career field, not just focus on C-17s. [They then] get a taste of
what it's like to work with the fighters."
Each aircrew member has a "D" bag, a chemical-defense bag which includes
specialized in-flight protective equipment, such as coveralls and a
mask with filters and a blower, gloves, hoods, boots, and detection
"We maintain their helmet[s], and their masks," Moran said. "If the
aircrew members are going to go on a mission, they usually come here in
the morning requesting their gear."
The Airmen also maintain aircraft gear - from the oxygen masks for passengers to life rafts and life vests.
"We installed [personnel-recovery kits], which contain two C-cell radios
which call out in case of emergency," Moran said. "There are
instructions for our guys to follow, and it will reach out to a rescue
unit which will find them and take them home."
Sometimes more or different equipment is packed.
"We have seven survival vests that go on the jet along with seven
body-armor vests," Moran said. "This is what the aircrew members would
use when flying over [a] hostile environment."
"In the winter time, we put on extra kits for the C-17 and C-12, called arctic kits," Moran said.
There are two on each C-17 and one on each C-12, he explained, each
containing a 'wiggy-walk-around suit,' - like a walking sleeping bag -
and other cold-weather gear.
The kits, designed for tundra survival, are placed on JBER aircraft between October and May each year.
"You always have [to] trust in what they do," said Air Force Capt.
Joshua Topliff, 517th Airlift Squadron Readiness Flight commander.
There are low margins of error when flying, especially when the aircraft
is only 500 feet above the ground in limited visibility, Topliff said.
Equipment differs by location. "At my last base, I packed personnel
parachutes," Druin said. "It is very rewarding knowing that what you're
doing is saving a life and giving them the good training they need."