by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs
12/21/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- A
C-5A Galaxy from Memphis Air National Guard Base, Tenn., needed to
refuel to continue its mission across the Pacific theater. The aircraft
landed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a base strategically
positioned to be a good breaking point for military and commercial
flights enroute. The temperature averaged 11 degrees below zero - too
cold to snow even though there had been a thick layer on the ground for
days. Ice continually formed across the ground and all transportation
Very few would want to be outside in this weather.
Meeting the C-5 on the ground as it landed was a group of 732nd Air
Mobility Squadron maintainers. They dressed in layers, and came prepared
with heaters and other equipment. It's a fact; aircraft break down. In
11 degrees below zero, parts freeze in place. Despite these challenges,
it's the 732nd AMS maintainers who make sure the C-5 takes off again to
continue its journey.
"Our mission is to move airplanes in and out of the Pacific theater,"
said Tech. Sgt. David Roberts, 732nd AMS flight line expeditor. "Or even
to the European theater if need be."
The maintainers are the real deal, working specifically to get the mobility job done.
"We are strictly real-world missions driven," he said. "Whatever comes through here is real world; it has to be moved."
The aircraft they move could be loaded with anything. It doesn't matter; the mission must continue on.
"This C-5A Galaxy didn't have cargo on it," he said. "It's assigned a
mission to go home to pick up something and go somewhere else. That's
why it comes through here; that's why we're here."
The pilots and crew actually operate the aircraft, but the mission couldn't continue without support when they land.
"We're strictly ground maintenance," he said. "We'll do whatever it takes to get that plane flying."
The 732nd AMS largely supports C-17 Globemaster IIIs, but their
operational range also includes the C-5s, KC-10 Extenders, KC-135
Stratotankers, L-100s, DC-6s, 747s, 737s, 767s, business jets and any
commercial planes that come through.
"Being an enroute facility, we don't have all the expertise as a main
operating base would have," Roberts said. "Unless there's something we
cannot do on a C-17 Globemaster or C-5, we'll work. If a plane needs a
part, and we don't have it, then we'll source it out to other bases."
Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., are usually the two bases they get most of their parts from.
"Once the parts come in, we'll fix it," he said. "Hopefully the same day
that it comes in and the air crew can take the airplane wherever it
needs to go."
They also work with the 517th Airlift Squadron when they need additional resources, or borrow equipment from the C-130 Hercules.
"It's tough," the maintainer from Folkston, Ga., said. "I don't think
I've ever been in an environment like this. Just this morning, we had
seven heaters going on a C-17 Globemaster that was taking off, literally
out on the flight line to make sure that nothing was leaking, that the
engine would start just fine."
"We have H-1 [Ground Support] Heaters, with hoses connected to the
heaters, and we usually put them right on the engines to keep the fuel
and oil warm," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Manning, aerospace
maintenance craftsman for the 732nd AMS. "So the engines will start when
they need to. If it's too cold, valves won't open, fuel doesn't flow
well, oil's real gel-like. We try to warm up the jet as much as possible
so it will leave."
For certain aircraft, like a C-17, the maintainers run the heaters four
hours prior to the scheduled launch. For a C-5, they set up the heaters
five hours prior to take-off.
"We go out there, we warm everything up so it's nice and warm and cozy,"
the staff sergeant from Lancaster, Calif., said, "ready to rock and
roll. It's like stretching before you run."
"Once the planes are ready to go, we actually de-ice them, which takes
all the snow and ice off so it's safe for flight," he said.
Between commercial and military planes, the unit maintains an average of
five aircraft daily, or 150 missions a month. The missions include war
efforts and business efforts, President of the United States support,
distinguished visitor support, and supporting Eielson Air Force Base
KC-10s transiting through JBER when they escort the F-22 Raptors to Guam
and other remote locations. They also help the Army missions. Some
impact the fight more than others, the maintainers said.
"I think we're strategically placed here for a reason," Roberts said. "I
think JBER supports us more than we support them. Obviously we use
their facilities. We go to the host wing's C-17 squadron if we need
parts; we're just here strategically placed to hit the Pacific realm a
lot quicker. So when planes need to come through, they don't have to air
refuel as much. Instead of flying from, say, Charleston Air Force Base,
[S.C.], all the way to Yokota, Japan, they can stop here, they can do
what they need to. It's cheaper, we can gas them, and they can keep
Within the last month, the tenant unit had 102 C-5s come through.
"Our big motto is 'We're top cover,'" Manning said. "We can reach pretty
much anywhere in the world in eight hours. You can reach from here to
Germany in eight hours, if you go over the top."