Thursday, January 11, 2018

Face of Defense: Video Highlights Airman's 'Interesting' Resilience

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike Smith, Air National Guard Training and Education Center

LOUISVILLE, Tenn., Jan. 11, 2018 — A video feature that highlights an airman’s setback and recovery from open heart surgery was published online recently by the Air National Guard’s training and education center.

“I had wanted to produce a feature video about overcoming adversity this year and found Sergeant Wither’s story compelling,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Kelly Collett, a videographer assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee.

Collett produced the video, “The Most Interesting Man in the Guard,” which highlights Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Shaun Withers, the production branch superintendent at the education center, and how heart surgery altered his active lifestyle. The video can be accessed at

In the video, according to Collett’s description, Withers returned to the kind of fun-loving activities that make for an interesting character: home brewing, sky-diving, motorcycling and ice hockey. He also fits the Air Force’s overall message of mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness.

‘It is Flattering’

“Honestly, it is flattering to have a story produced on this," said Withers, who leads a public affairs team that develops professional and continuing education products. "I don’t much like the spotlight, but if it helps someone else then it’s worth any embarrassment it might cause. It's a story of resiliency wrapped in a fun package, and that’s what the Air Force is talking about.”

Recovery did not get off to the perfect start for Withers. During his first few months after surgery, Withers said he was dismayed and thrown off of his adventures. Those close to him told him to shed his fears and get active again.

“I've never been a sit-on-the-couch guy,” Withers said. So, the feature shows Withers is back enjoying life in many ways, as he recently scored above 90 percent at his latest physical fitness test.

Withers said that the things that make him "interesting" to some and no different to others might be same qualities. He’s an airman who likes to enjoy life. His story is personal.

Air National Guard Supports California Mudslide Rescue Efforts

By Air Force Capt. Roderick Bersamina 129th Rescue Wing

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif., Jan. 11, 2018 — California Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing are providing search and rescue support in Southern California for those affected by recent mudslides.

The wing has deployed an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter with aircrews and two pararescuemen to Santa Barbara Municipal Airport for search and rescue operations.

Mudslide Response Efforts

The helicopter is one of eight California National Guard aircraft and a dozen high-water vehicles supporting mudslide-response efforts. The California National Guard and the 129th Rescue Wing are working closely with the Santa Barbara sheriff’s office and stand ready to send additional personnel and resources as needed.
Aerial view of California mudslide area shot from an Air National Guard helicopter performing search and rescue operations.

“Like we’ve done time and time again, your local Air National Guardsmen answered the call at a moment’s notice to help those in need," said Air Force Col. Taft O. Auer, 129th Rescue Wing commander. "The extraordinary women and men of the 129th Rescue Wing are always ready to execute our lifesaving mission.”

Past Missions

Over the last few months, hundreds of these Silicon Valley-based airmen deployed to support relief efforts in Texas for Hurricane Harvey, in Florida for Hurricane Irma, in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria and in California for the Wine Country Wildfires and the Thomas Fire.

The 129th Rescue Wing is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,100 people since 1977. From arid deserts and snow-covered mountaintops to urban and rural settings, the 129th Rescue Wing’s members can reach any destination by land, air or sea.
Equipped with MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and Guardian Angel teams made up of pararescuemen and combat rescue officers and survival experts, the 129th Rescue Wing conducts combat search and rescue missions, as well as the rescue of isolated persons on board ships, lost or injured hikers and medical evacuations across the West Coast.

Logistics Airmen in Alaska Keep Aircraft Airborne

By Air Force Senior Airman Curtis Beach Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, Jan. 11, 2018 — As a C-17 Globemaster III transport jet gains altitude, the air pressure decreases, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the pilot’s blood. If unprepared, permanent damage to vital organs can happen within minutes. To prevent this, crew members rely on liquid oxygen.

Airmen from the 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facilities section here maintain this capability and other vital resources.

The fuels facilities section consists of seven airmen and four civilians who execute and document the receipt, storage and transfer of 14 million gallons of jet fuel, ground fuel, liquid oxygen and de-icing fluid each year.

Critical Mission

“This section is critical to the JBER mission, as they provide the energy that moves all of our assets,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Hightower, 673rd LRS fuels operations section chief. “Their scope of responsibility is vast as they control all aviator breathing oxygen, vehicle and equipment fuel, aviation fuel and de-icer products. Without the proper management of these products, the JBER mission ceases.”

The team coordinates daily operator maintenance on assets valued at $302 million, consisting of 10 fuel facilities and 109 fuel pits and outlets that encompass 5 miles of pipeline throughout the base. They schedule and coordinate daily fuel deliveries across the base for Air Mobility Command, the Air National Guard, the Army, the transient alert section and the 3rd Wing, as well as tenant components.

“You could say we fuel the mission,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Fortenberry, 673rd LRS fuels facilities section noncommissioned officer in charge. “We handle any kind of fuel request, such as jet fuel -- that’s our main job.”

Safety Rules

Along with providing essential products, fuel facilities airmen are focused on protecting another important asset: people. When they work in cryogenics, the team must adhere to safety guidelines to prevent injury or loss of life.

Handling the liquid oxygen entails risk. The team creates liquid oxygen by placing air under high pressure. As the pressure increases, the air temperature also increases, eventually converting the gas to a liquid that boils off, leaving a pure gas as a result.

“The personal protective equipment we wear is absolutely indispensable and keeps us protected,” said Air Force Senior Airman Brandon Willen-Nelson, 673rd LRS facilities technician. “We’re handling a substance that can reach dangerously low temperatures around minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit. If anything spills, we’re prepared.”

Protective Equipment

Their protective equipment ensures no part of their skin is exposed to the extremely low temperature. Operating in teams of two is an additional safety measure, ensuring each airmen has a wingman in the event of emergency.
Although serving as a member of the fuels facilities section runs some risk of physical danger, Willen-Nelson said it’s all in a day’s work and executing his part of the JBER mission is rewarding. Thanks to the 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facilities team, pilots and aircrew can breathe easier as they provide global expeditionary combat support.